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LAFC mailbag: Different kinds of strikers, and lineup options

And yes, there’s some talk of promotion and relegation.

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Semifinals-LA Galaxy at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Hi folks, been a bit since we did a mailbag, so let’s bring it back. Got some soccer questions, although I’m happy to take literally anything at a time like this, so feel free to suggest new ones, soccer or not, for next time in the comments or on Angels on Parade’s social media channels.

With that, here goes...

For those of us less technically trained new fans (i.e. me), what does Dio or BWP do that frees up Vela, Rossi, etc. I see other teams like Juventus, PSG, Man City where their 9’s are the prime scorers. At LAFC, we expect our Wings to be the prime scorers.

So how is our system different? What are the job demands of the different spots in our front 3? - That’s Mr. A-hole to You

First up, thanks Mr. A, hope you are well. I think this is a great question and a good place to start, since much has been made of “Carlos Vela as False No. 9” the past several months.

Vela, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez operate as attacking “tweeners,” able to play a few different roles. Vela can play as more of a No. 10 (which normally means a playmaker, setting others up) but as we saw last year, he can be deadly as a wide forward. Rodriguez can play out wide on either side, and so can Rossi.

I do think Rossi is a No. 9 (which means central striker) himself, although he is obviously a fantastic wide forward, too. I would have been playing Rossi in the middle when the “regular” center forwards weren’t available, slide Rodriguez to the left, keep Vela on the right. Instead, Bob Bradley used Vela as the “False 9,” a forward who could play through the middle but could also pop up at random spots and pull defenders around with him, the idea being to open up space.

But I digress. Adama Diomande, or Christian Ramirez when he was here, or Bradley Wright-Phillips in the future in theory, will play a traditional No. 9 role. There’s variations on this, too — some basically hang out with the central defenders, some run in the channels (basically, make diagonal runs between lines of defense), others drop deep to be integrated with the play and then try and catch defenders sleeping. Dio is definitely the latter category, and BWP in New York mostly played as a focal point up top, except he has some surprising playmaking skills himself and that could be used. Ramirez was usually a focal point.

The idea is if the central striker ties up the center backs, the wide forwards can find more space, as they slash in and out and swap sides and so forth. If a wide forward like Vela gets a man marking him, that means there’s a numbers advantage for the rest of the team if they can exploit it in attack.

I think one of the good things about the Rossi-Vela-Rodriguez group is that they really have very similar and complimentary skillsets up top and that can flummox defenses. But usually it didn’t, and what Dio, BWP and so forth can do is provide a different element in attack to give LAFC options. If it isn’t happening with the wide forwards in a particular game, maybe the center forward finds an opening in the box and smashes it home. Or vice versa. When the players are all of a similar style, the sameness often doesn’t provide an immediate backup plan if things aren’t going well.

To wrap up my answer here, I think LAFC have, with Vela and Rossi, two of the finest wide forwards ever in MLS history, and they’ve scored so much so the emphasis hasn’t been as big on the central striker to score in bulk, so far. It won’t always be like that, though.

Onto the next one...

Thanks for the question, Juan, and it’s a nice piggyback off the last one. To me, if Dio or BWP can go, one of them needs to start. All things being equal, the first-choice swap is an easy one, bring Rodriguez to the bench and put Dio or BWP in, then bring Rodriguez and possible the other No. 9 as subs in a game.

Realistically, this gives Bradley a chance to rotate his lineup in a way he hasn’t yet for LAFC. At the start of this season he was giving minutes to Francisco Ginella and Bryce Duke, and I think Jose Cifuentes will be in the rotation in midfield, too. Theoretically, Bradley won’t have to play Rossi and Vela or any other attacker every single game, which can help them stay fresh and hopefully avoid injuries.

And that should help Dio and BWP, too, as maybe they rotate when one of them isn’t on fire, Adrien Perez gets a few starts himself, and the quest to compete in multiple competitions doesn’t seem quite as daunting. In other words, the No. 9s coming back to health will not only offer a new look in attack, but will also possibly provide depth in attack in a way we’ve yet to see for LAFC.

Ok, one more question for this one, and it’s a doozy:

Thanks, Bob, going to have me grab the third rail of American soccer here. No, I think it’s valid, and while I don’t know if I can go as deep as you want, here’s where I think things stand for men’s soccer in North America at the moment.

I still think promotion and relegation is still a long way off in MLS, put simply. While I think the global paradigm is making inroads into American soccer, I think most owners are still oriented to an American/Canadian model where pro/rel doesn’t exist in other sports. Ultimately, they are the obstacle in all of this, since many won’t understand the prospect of having a bad season and dropping out of MLS altogether.

Now, I do think promotion/relegation could come here in the future, but I see two scenarios: MLS expands to 40+ teams and ends up making an internal pro/rel system of “MLS1/MLS2,” or pro/rel opens up as part of a regional superleague.

Both MLS and Liga MX (which technically has pro/rel, although there’s been tons of shenanigans around it that rather invalidates the structure itself as “pure”) have been talking about strengthening their partnership the last 18 months or so, going so far as to hint they could join forces.

I think if Europe goes to a superleague model, which seems likely in the long run, MLS and Liga MX will implement one of their own. Will they include Central American and Caribbean teams too? Possibly but I doubt it, I bet they’ll tell those regions to make their own superleagues.

And so if MLS and Liga MX join forces, we could see a scenario where the top 20 teams between the two leagues go to a combined superleague, and the remainder goes to a combined second tier, OR remains as separate domestic leagues. This is the scenario in which owners could be convinced to take the risk of future relegation, for the enormous bags of cash they’d get should they go to the superleague. Make no mistake, this would make a mint on both sides of the border.

When will this happen? Beats me! I still think we’re awhile away. But while a few years ago my thought was that this would happen “never,” now I think it could happen in the next 2-3 decades. This is all my opinion and speculation, but I think if you want pro/rel, it could happen.

Thanks for all the questions! Let’s do this again, soon! What do you think? Leave a comment (or a question) below!