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How Union’s long ball made LAFC chase the game in draw

LAFC get different look against a game Philadelphia side.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club and the Philadelphia Union went toe-to-toe in a playoff-like match which featured the return of Carlos Vela after suffering a hamstring injury in El Tráfico three weeks ago. However, much like LAFC’s performance collectively, Vela was inconsistent for the entire night he was on the field in the 1-1 draw.

To be fair to Vela, he most likely is not fully fit. But for LAFC, a 1-1 draw to one of the best sides in MLS highlighted a couple recurring problems. LAFC early on in the match found it difficult to defend direct balls over the top and was unable to consistently win the ball back with its counter-pressing.

LAFC’s shortcomings in defending long balls has been a thorn in its side for much of the season, especially when LAFC has played some of the better sides in MLS. This was a frequent problem against the Galaxy, the New York Red Bulls and once again early on against the Philadelphia Union.

Philadelphia’s success in playing direct led to an early goal in the third minute of play. A long ball by Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was inadvertently redirected by LAFC left back Jordan Harvey into the path of Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who played midfielder Fafa Picault in behind to set up the Union’s only goal.

While Harvey’s mistake seems minuscule, it was compounded by Walker Zimmerman losing track of Philadelphia striker Kacper Przybylko and LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who should probably do better with an attempt with such little pace on it.

With the early goal, the Union continued to play the direct balls into Przybylko’s feet or balls over the top and in behind LAFC’s back four, which was bound to be the most successful way to wreak havoc in the first half.

Another area where LAFC struggled defensively was its ability to counter-press Philadelphia. For most teams who face LAFC, if their possession does not pin the opposing team back in its own half, the counter-pressing will.

When LAFC turn over possession, they quickly swarm the ball, regain possession and take advantage of the spaces left from the team attempting to transition into attack. When executed correctly, LAFC usually creates additional goal scoring opportunities.

Unlike other teams, the Union were successful in breaking the press and had periods of possession and were able to exploit the spaces in between the lines. These longer sustained periods of possession became more frequent as the match went on and at times forced LAFC to defend in a mid-block. As a result, the Union were able to match LAFC’s usually superior passing, in the final third, attacking half, and total passes.

Yet in spite of all of LAFC’s struggles defensively, they were still dangerous and forced Blake to make a plethora of saves in order to keep the game level. Los Angeles’ preferred front six was dynamic in the final third and while the sharpness was not there for the entire game one can expect a more fluid performance from LAFC as Vela reaches full fitness.

A two-game home stand could not come at a better time, where LAFC is nearly unbeaten, as LAFC looks to end the four-game winless streak and possibly find its previous form.

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