Carlos Vela returned, and he scored the vital equalizer for LAFC. He showed moments of brilliance, nearly scoring a beautiful chip after a dribble into the box, but he also showed rust and had several uncharacteristically wayward passes.
That’s not altogether surprising after missing two games with a hamstring injury, and it’s quite possible he’s not fully 100 percent yet. The good news is he’s back and he didn’t look like he got hurt, so the first hurdle was met and conquered. Now, we’ll have to see how quickly he can get back into a rhythm and if he can fully round into form in the final four games of the regular season.
Speaking of, Vela now has 28 goals in 27 league games this year. He still leads the Golden Boot race, but Josef Martinez is only four goals behind him, so don’t be surprised if the scoring title goes down to the wire, especially if Vela can’t score every game. Also, Martinez’s own single-season scoring record in MLS is 31 goals, so Vela has four games to get four goals to break the record. It could happen, but still work to do.
It’s going to be interesting to see how folks view Tyler Miller’s night. It’s pretty clear he was fooled on Philly’s goal, a floating header that showed he was out of position.
However, Miller also had two vital saves, one in each half, to keep the Union to just one goal. All in all, it was a quiet night for Miller, who only made those two saves, but they were both spectacular, the kind of stops that the goalkeeper made his name on in his first season and a half with LAFC.
But the early goal conceded could still loom. Neither Miller nor Pablo Sisniega has looked particularly impressive the past six weeks, and Bob Bradley’s rotation of the GKs (some enforced by circumstance, some not) hasn’t really led to one guy really grabbing the starting spot with both hands. Miller has started the last two, and it seems likely he’ll stay the starter, but only if he can regain his rhythm heading into the playoffs.
Beating the low-ish block
Philly didn’t present one look on defense during the night, as they cycled through front-foot attack, sitting in a low block, counterattacking and pressing. In some respects, their play at many points mirrored LAFC’s style of play.
But there were stretches in both halves in which LAFC had to contend with numbers in the box on defense and try to break down a compact team in the low block. The good news is they managed to successfully do this once, with the ball being cycled around, Mark-Anthony Kaye’s cross clanging off the crossbar in a fluke play, then a scramble leading to one of Vela’s ugliest goals. They all count the same, though!
The bigger concern is that defenses sitting deep, even if they do it only situationally like the Union did on Saturday, remain a problem for LAFC. Of course, even the very best teams in the world struggle with bus-parking. Maybe the good thing is LAFC are getting plenty of reps working against a low block in the regular season, assuming some, probably all playoff opponents will deploy this against LAFC.
No wins in four
Make no mistake, the podcasts and national writers are sharpening their takes now that LAFC have peaked, with the team now four games winless, their longest run of the season without a victory. Of course, if they keep slumping and lose right away in the playoffs, that take could very well be proved right.
But it’s worth putting this run in a bit of context. LAFC have nabbed three draws in four games, so the sky is falling takes would be overblown. Add to that, two of the games are on the road (again, no losses) and the other was a game against the Galaxy. All three draws were comebacks from a losing position. Carlos Vela played a little over an hour in two of the games (both draws in which he scored) and missed the other two games. He’s solidified his MLS MVP case in his absence.
Could it be better? Yes, absolutely. Is this a total collapse? No, far from it. There are reasons for concern, but still no reason to panic at this point, especially if LAFC can fire off a run of wins to end the regular season.
LAFC could have won the Supporters’ Shield tonight if they had won, Atlanta United dropped points, and NYCFC lost. Only Atlanta came through on that scenario in the end.
LAFC are seven points ahead of NYCFC at present with four games to play. Their magic number is six to clinch the Shield, between points to pick up and/or NYCFC to drop. LAFC are still firmly in the driver’s seat, but a win next week or a loss for NYCFC would really strengthen their position, and if both were to happen it would be wrapped up next week against Toronto FC. We’ll see.
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