Los Angeles Football Club entered the MLS is Back Tournament the favorites, even without reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela present, and they have a tough knockout game first thing, as they’ll face the Seattle Sounders in the Round of 16 Monday night.
Ahead of the big game, let’s go over three things I’m watching for from LAFC’s perspective:
Pick your poison
Against the Portland Timbers, LAFC forward Diego Rossi was finally stymied, a predictable outcome considering how dominant he had been in the first two games of the tournament. With Vela out, Rossi is now the focal point of the attack, and I think any smart opponent will do their absolute best to mark him out of the game.
Having said that, Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored three goals in three games for LAFC. His game and Rossi’s are very different, but both are in form right now, and it will be tough for most teams to stop both players for 90-plus minutes, unless they’re sitting in a low block defensively. That’s possible for Seattle, especially if they get an early lead, but I think it’s more likely they’re going to have to focus on stopping either Rossi or Wright-Phillips, and hope the rest of the team can do enough to stop the other one. For LAFC, that’s an opportunity for both players and especially the supporting cast to step up in the breach.
Speaking of marking dominant attackers, LAFC will have their work cut out for them with the Sounders attack, too. Nicolas Lodeiro can kill you, Raul Ruidiaz is a pure striker who needs just one look to beat you and score, and Jordan Morris is in stellar form. Much like LAFC’s multi-headed forward line, Seattle’s attack doesn’t run through one player. But if there’s one player to really key in on, it’s gotta be Morris, who not only has the speed to beat defenders easily, he’s now got the skillset to really do damage as both a scorer and set-up man on the wing. LAFC struggle with those players, who aren’t all that common in terms of mold or production, and the defense is probably going to be on the run, in a major way, all night. It’s just a matter of marking Morris and stopping the other threats enough to keep them from mounting a big lead.
Kenneth Vermeer or Pablo Sisniega in goal for LAFC? Vermeer has played five games total for the black-and-gold, Sisniega just two this season, and both have looked shaky at times. Neither one has a shutout at this tournament, and there’s a legit question if whoever the GK turns out to be for this game will make a fatal mistake. Of course, that’s the nature of the position in general, and if I were to guess, I think Vermeer gets the nod, but while LAFC’s attack has been stellar in Orlando, the defense and goalkeeping have some way to catch up, and with a knockout game here already, they’ll need to get in order right away.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.