With two weeks until Los Angeles Football Club set to restart the 2020 MLS season with the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, we’re going to ask a question each weekday leading up to the big game.
Before I turn to on-field matters, the biggest question of all is: Should they be playing this tournament at all? MLS is all traveling to Orlando, where coronavirus rates are shooting through the roof right now. Are they counting on the situation to have calmed down in the next two weeks? That seems very risky! And maybe not smart!
I have major misgivings about restarting the season at this particular time for safety reasons. That being said, my job is to cover this team, and while I’ve lodged my misgivings, I will aim, health permitting, to do my best to continue to do my job. That means I will write about the team playing games, because that’s what they’re trying to do. If that changes, then we’ll address it as it comes.
So, with the first question of the set: How will LAFC’s defense line up at the MLS is Back Tournament?
I think we should recognize there will be squad rotation during this tournament. Whether that means defensive subs — five are allowed now in each game — or rotation of starters, or some combination, is unclear. But it’s unlikely we’ll see a set group of four, even if that is usually Bob Bradley’s M.O. with the LAFC defense.
So the short answer is “We’ll see!”
But I want to write more about this. Let’s say there’s an ideal lineup, for a must-win game (ok, yes, technically in a tournament they’re all kind of must-win. But a total must-win, I suppose). Who’s in the group?
I think that if they are healthy and fit, there are three clear choices: Eddie Segura, Tristan Blackmon and Diego Palacios.
Segura is the first name on the teamsheet after Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi. While trading away Walker Zimmerman remains rather puzzling in some respects, Segura is that good, he can anchor a defense capably. I think he was the better defender last season, frankly.
So Segura is a lock. I think Blackmon has played himself into lock status, alongside other players departing and a small core of defenders left on the team. And Blackmon’s ability to play both right back and center back improve his chances of getting on the field in one of those spots.
I predicted Palacios would become the starter at left back this season and he did. I still think Jordan Harvey will get playing time, but Palacios is the No. 1 at LB and I think that will continue.
So who is the fourth name among this core group? I bet we’ll see a platoon, but there’s four players left, so that makes this pretty easy to break down.
Dejan Jakovic is the veteran who never gives up. While many were skeptical he could still hang at an MLS level, he showed in the opening games he’s still got the ability. Can he do it for a full season? That remains to be seen, but he’s been up to the challenge so far and Bradley seems to trust him.
Danilo Silva started the season injured but the veteran Brazilian has shown some versatility. The question is what he’s got left in the tank. Having said that, if he’s healthy, I think he’ll at least come off the bench if LAFC are trying to protect a lead.
Mohamed El-Munir is in a tight spot, the third of three left backs on the roster. Having said that, his game offers elements not provided by Palacios or Harvey. He’s definitely in a timeshare but I think there’s a solid shot he’ll start a game, or else become a regular substitute for a game-changing element.
And then there is the newest signing, Andy Najar. The Honduran international has recovered from a knee injury, and he looks like he will get a run in Orlando. Will he play as the “starter” at right back? To be determined but I think he’ll get real minutes. If this was a normal season I think Bradley would give him time to adjust but he’s basically been a member of this team for several months already, he’s probably got that full onboarding process pretty much done by now.
What do you think? How do you think the defense will look in Orlando? Let’s chat in the comments below.