Los Angeles Football Club will walk into their game on Saturday at Orlando City SC missing seven players — including four starters — to international duty and with a big fat question mark hanging over Carlos Vela’s status as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Orlando City will walk into the game missing five players — four of whom are effectively first-choice — to international duty, their starting fullbacks out injured and their new Designated Player is likely out hurt, too.
In isolation, both teams are probably fairly apprehensive coming into the game. But in context, both teams will be missing major contributors, and we’ll get to see which team’s depth will deal with it better.
LAFC will definitely be missing Walker Zimmerman, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, and Brian Rodriguez, as well as on-loan reserves Peter-Lee Vassell and Rodolfo Zelaya. Newcomer Diego Palacios only had one match, on Thursday against Peru, with Ecuador, and depending on when his camp lets out could join LAFC, but considering he just joined the club he probably wouldn’t be in the running to play regardless.
But the quartet of Zimmerman, starting center back, the midfield duo of Kaye and Atuesta, and Rodriguez, new but already jumping right into the fray, is significant. So is the situation surrounding Vela — could he play in this game? Should he play? His diagnosis was a grade 1 hamstring strain, the most minor on the scale, and after missing last week (a game LAFC lost, by the way) he could be in line to return. Or, he could be put on ice another week, with an eye to make sure he’s fully healthy and ready for the playoffs.
To say losing all these players is not a big deal is wrong. However, looking at it a bit deeper, it may not be catastrophic. Two big reasons for that:
- Experience: Of the players out, Zimmerman and Kaye were out for much of the summer at the Gold Cup, Rodriguez and Palacios are new and Vassell and Zelaya are on loan. The big losses here are Atuesta and Vela, because the team is not used to them being out. But this isn’t the first time this year the team has had to deal with player absences, even if injuries have been blessedly light for the team this year.
- The other side: Orlando City are missing a bunch of important players, too. Their injured fullbacks, Ruan and former LAFC man Joao Moutinho, were a bright spot earlier in the year but have been in and out of the lineup a lot lately, while Orlando will be missing an additional five players: Will Johnson, Tesho Akindele, Kamal Miller, Carlos Ascues and Sebastian Mendez are all out on international duty. Akindele is their leading scorer. He may not be at Vela levels but it’s a big loss nonetheless.
Ultimately, most of the gaps that need to be plugged for LAFC are straightforward. Tristan Blackmon seems almost certain to fill in for Zimmerman at center back, and Lee Nguyen will start in midfield. Josh Perez will almost certainly start.
But that leaves one spot up for grabs in the XI and to be honest, that is a question mark, if Vela doesn’t play. Could Alejandro Guido get a look with the first team? He hasn’t played all year but if he’s healthy, he may need to be pressed into service. Could Bob Bradley opt to bring Mohamed El-Munir in but play him higher up the field? He hasn’t done this but it could be an option to fill out the lineup without major disruptions otherwise.
It seems fairly likely that Josh Perez will start in midfield, and Adrien Perez would get his first start for LAFC in the forward line. Josh has played in both midfield and the forward line this season, so he seems most likely to slot in alongside Latif Blessing and Nguyen.
But still, there may be one too many players gone for it to look seamless for LAFC this time around. I fully expect the coaching staff has been planning for it for some time, and we’ll see when the lineups come out how they plug in the gaps, but there is bound to be some trepidation coming in, especially with the team on a two-game winless run and Vela’s status still in the air.
But again, Orlando are missing quite a few players, too, and they are desperate for wins to keep their playoff quest alive. LAFC can’t just roll up and expect to be handed three points, but they have a great opportunity to get a result, even with the many players out or unlikely to play. We’ll see how it goes.
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