Times are good for Los Angeles Football Club, as they extended their lead atop the standings in MLS with a 3-0 road win over the weekend against Columbus Crew SC. The result led Crew manager Caleb Porter to call LAFC “the Man City of MLS,” which, even if it was intended as a kind of backhanded compliment for LAFC’s spending power, still recognizes the quality of the team and style of play.
Articles left and right are feting LAFC as being on fire this year, of Carlos Vela on an unprecedented run to begin a season, of pundits already thinking this team has a hand on the Supporters’ Shield (although of course, there are still 4.5 months left in the season, don’t count your chickens before they hatch).
And yet...there’s a current running through the fanbase that LAFC are disappointing.
To be fair, prior to Saturday’s win in Columbus LAFC had won only one of their previous four, a stretch that included a loss, the first two shutouts of the season, and two draws that LAFC probably ought to have won.
But it’s worth taking a bit of perspective here. Why are some LAFC supporters so upset, despite being the best team in the league right now?
Most of the ire has been directed at two spots. Let’s focus on one: central striker.
While Adama Diomande and Christian Ramirez have been trading playing time in that spot, Ramirez has been the primary option this season because Diomande has been dealing with recovering from surgery to begin the season and getting hurt again and missing four games. In limited minutes (just over 300), Diomande has three goals and three assists, so his production has been good.
Ramirez, meanwhile, has two goals and an assist in a little over double the minutes of Dio. But missing a huge chance in Seattle a few weeks back has lingered long in the imagination, with some wondering if that miss is also affecting Ramirez’s confidence. It’s certainly possible, but strikers tend to be awfully cold-blooded, and I would expect he’s not replaying it in his mind, again and again.
At any rate, Ramirez is turning into a scapegoat for a segment of LAFC fans, and I’m not quite sure I understand why. Does he score on every chance? No. Does any striker? No. He’s had good moments and bad, just like Dio, but absence makes the heart grow fonder and apparently, in this case, the exact opposite is also true, presence makes the heart grow cold.
Connected to this is the situation of Rodolfo Zelaya, who has yet to play for LAFC. Signing one of the biggest Salvadoran players was sure to be a hit for fans in Los Angeles, but with him yet to play, the reverse has also occurred — the fans are restless that he hasn’t played yet. Can we be sure that LAFC envisioned him missing the first two-plus months of the season? Not sure, to be honest. Teams often obscure whether they knew a player was going to take awhile or if his health and fitness were worse than expected, and we don’t have enough information to really know yet. But without seeing him, many are ready to write him off. It seems pretty short-sighted — remember, Bob Bradley brought both Diomande and Lee Nguyen along slowly when they signed last season — but consider the spoils on display for this club.
With Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi locking down the wide attacker roles in Bradley’s XI, there’s one slot left for the central striker. Diomande has 15 goals and seven assists in 26 regular-season games — so he’s producing a goal or assist at a pace of nearly every single game. He’s been a Norwegian international, although not since he joined LAFC. Ramirez has 25 goals and six assists in 68 career MLS regular season games — not as good as Dio’s rate but Ramirez has remained healthy throughout his MLS tenure and he’s regarded as one of the better strikers in MLS, a new U.S. international who could get called up for the Gold Cup this summer. And this doesn’t include Zelaya, who is one of Central America’s best forwards.
Make no mistake: LAFC’s striker corps is the envy of MLS. No team in MLS features three international-caliber central forwards plus the tandem of Vela and Rossi, who are on their own quite likely the best one-two scoring punch in the league.
All of this is to say that LAFC have not been perfect, but which team was the last to be perfect? Even the best teams lose sometimes, miss chances, draw a couple games.
I understand the desire by the team itself to strive for perfection, as it’s a tactic meant to get the best possible results. Maybe perfection isn’t achievable, but there’s always room for improvement and there’s value in having very high standards. And of course, it’s reasonable for fans to feel similarly, as an apathetic fanbase usually accompanies an apathetic team.
But at the same time, it’s worth putting things in perspective. Should the best team in MLS these days have a scapegoat? No, truly they should not, and that player being a truly quality player in Christian Ramirez or one who has yet to play in Fito Zelaya seems unfair, frankly. In this case, the old adage “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” seems like wise words, as times are good for LAFC, and we shouldn’t wallow in anger when it looks like we’re watching the best team in MLS right now.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!