Editor’s Note: Please welcome Jorge Ramos to the Angels on Parade staff. Jorge begins by looking at the hidden story behind LAFC’s most recent game.
Sunday night’s 2-0 loss to Minnesota United FC answered one question every team in MLS was wondering: How good is Los Angeles Football Club without MLS MVP candidate Carlos Vela? LAFC proved it is still a good team that can create opportunities despite losing and being held goalless at home for the first time in league play in almost a year.
The notion that LAFC does not need Vela is also not the case. It’s difficult to replace a player who has had a hand in 42 of LAFC’s 74 total goals. But Sunday’s match proved the gap between a LAFC team with Vela and one without him is not as a big as previously thought.
Los Angeles dominated the ball, with 811 total passes to Minnesota’s 245 and finished the match with 77 percent possession. The only difference, Vela wasn’t there to drift in centrally from the right-hand side to create numerical superiorities in midfield and wreak havoc on the opposing team’s left back with his dribbling.
Instead, LAFC’s front three interchanged freely, allowing the likes of forward Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande, Brian Rodríguez and later in the second half Adrien Perez, to take advantage of spaces that were created from their off-the-ball movement. LAFC’s constant movement opened up a hunkered down Minnesota and created three early goal scoring opportunities for Los Angeles. However, of the three chances, only one found the frame in 14th minute when Rodriguez’s shot was parried away when he found himself in behind on a through ball by midfielder Eduard Atuesta.
The second half saw more of the same consistent chance creation from the front three when Perez, who was subbed on in the 70th minute, had two of his chances saved by Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Overall, LAFC had 11 of its 23 total shots come within the penalty area and nine of which were from the penalty spot or closer.
Another bright spot for Los Angeles was Atuesta’s dribbling in the final third. Atuesta had five successful dribbles around the 18-yard box, two of which were followed by two shots (one blocked and one on target). Atuesta’s ability to create these opportunities both with his passing and dribbling will become key in LAFC’s success to break down low blocks when Vela is or isn’t on the field.
If there was one negative of LAFC’s performance, aside from their lackluster performance in front of goal, were some of the quality of shots they were settling for when they couldn’t break down Minnesota. At times, especially in the latter parts of the second half, Los Angeles settled for nine shots of at least 20 yards or further. When a team dominates possession like LAFC did against Minnesota, settling for low percentage, long-distance shots is exactly what Minnesota hopes for when it sits so deep.
When LAFC did create goal scoring opportunities, it was because of its quick passing and patience around the penalty area. The more LAFC shifted Minnesota’s low block, the more the gaps appeared and were able to be taken advantage of for a closer, higher percentage shot.
There’s no doubt that many teams around the league will look at this as a possible game plan for when it faces Los Angeles. As long as LAFC consistently creates goal-scoring opportunities like they did against Minnesota and limit their bad long-distance shots, they will be in a good position to break down even the stingiest of defenses.
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