Anything can happen, but we think Los Angeles Football Club will play the Houston Dynamo in the MLS is Back Tournament, Monday evening in Orlando. After four months off, there’s a lot of uncertainty and only a few answers before the black-and-gold are back in action.
With that, let’s examine three things to watch for as LAFC are back in action:
Can they thrive without Vela?
Carlos Vela is not available in Orlando, and unlike an injury, LAFC have had some time to plan for life without their superstar. While any team that loses its best player can’t expect to not miss that player, coming in you can make a credible case LAFC are capable of being productive even without Vela’s prodigious contributions.
Diego Rossi is the very best second scoring option in the league, and on most teams would be the man himself. His track record speaks for itself, and if he can find a vein of form in Orlando, he’ll help set LAFC on a good course in the tournament.
But that’s not all. Adama Diomande. Bradley Wright-Phillips. Brian Rodriguez. Latif Blessing. Eduard Atuesta. Mark-Anthony Kaye. Even the occasional goal from defense. Even with Vela breaking the scoring record last year and Rossi bettering his season tally last year, the load was otherwise spread around on the team last year, to great effect.
It’s going to be different — Rossi will get more attention, Rodriguez will be looked to get his first goal with the club, and the central strikers will be asked to take a bigger load than usual in firing goals. They can’t rely on a moment of magic from Vela to set them on the right path or get the crucial goal. But this team is deep, and they are capable of getting the goals and wins in spite of that. We just have to see if they can come through without the security blanket Vela brings.
Can Vermeer manage the finer margins?
Kenneth Vermeer is off to a good start on paper for LAFC, the veteran goalkeeper posting a 2-1-1 record across all competitions, allowing five goals in four games.
That’s a tiny sample size, so sweeping conclusions are silly, but it’s been either “outstanding” or “meh” game to game. In the two wins, Vermeer was truly fantastic, while in the non-wins shipping five goals in two games is worrisome, as is his extremely aggressive style of play as a default.
The sport has evolved so that many top goalkeepers are increasingly aggressive, and many coaches are willing to see their GK make the occasional mistake or allow a chipped goal if they can snuff out a basket of chances otherwise. I suspect that, and the considerable experience, of Vermeer means Bob Bradley can weather a blooper if it is occasional and doesn’t come in an elimination context.
But the pressure is on, and LAFC brought Vermeer in to help settle the GK position and yes, to win now. It’s going to be interesting to see how he performs in his 5th-7th games for LAFC, and hopefully beyond in Orlando, starting with the clash against Houston.
Can LAFC deal with the physical?
Aside from occasional bad days, perhaps the way to stop LAFC is to get physical and rough them up as much as possible without conceding penalties or red cards. Unfortunately for LAFC, the MLS is Back Tournament has been a demolition derby so far, players crashing into each other, two-footed flying challenges coming thick and fast, and referees basically sitting on their whistles throughout.
I think LAFC have aimed to avoid folding when they are bodied up, but without playing a game yet, this has to be a concern. And with players rusty and not in anything close to fitness, the risk of injury is huge. With the margins finer in general for LAFC, a crunching tackle can’t lead to a major injury or spirits to flag because a player wasn’t properly sanctioned for a bad play.
One way LAFC can try to counter this inevitable development is if they can body up opponents themselves, without going over the line, of course. This is something Kaye has been cultivating, and we know Diomande plays a pest role remarkably well, so if the team can get down and dirty when they need to and mix that with the beautiful, flowing soccer, then concerns about struggling against physicality will recede.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.