Obviously, we’ve been fortunate in LAFC’s short history, the black-and-gold didn’t have an expansion season in 2018 full of hard knocks. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but on the curve of MLS expansion teams, past and since, it was pretty darn good.
So, was the loss a bad night against a good team (yes, Sporting are legitimately good) or a sign that this team is really in free fall? Great question, I don’t know.
Let’s talk it through:
Just a blip?
First, LAFC had to kind of scramble for this game, with Eddie Segura getting knocked out for the season with a torn ACL, and Jesus David Murillo out with what is hopefully not a long-term hamstring injury.
They had a bit of time to adjust for Segura’s absence, but basically it comes down to Tristan Blackmon and whoever is left in playing central defense. It seems Bob Bradley isn’t ready to put Tony Leone or Mohamed Traore (at least this year) in the lineup at LAFC, with that duo getting reps at Las Vegas Lights FC. Mamadou Fall did come off the bench and play 45 minutes in his MLS debut against Sporting, and one can wonder why he didn’t get the start, but starting a rookie at center back against a good team is usually a risk.
I’ll concede that the recent makeshift trend to pack the backline with fullbacks playing out of position doesn’t really seem viable but there aren’t a ton of alternatives based on what’s on the roster. On that note, why didn’t Jordan Harvey get a look? Has he hit the wall in his career?
Still, if Murillo can come back in a game or two, and if he and Tristan Blackmon can stay healthy together, then this “sky is falling” feeling at the moment may dissipate quickly.
And with Cristian Arango set to get in the fray soon, and the talent of Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, LAFC are still one of the most stacked attacks in the league. If Arango can help them raise their level, then hopefully the plugged up attack can become free-flowing once again.
This was a bad loss, but it’s just one data point. It’s not been a vintage season, but they remain above the playoff line while playing pretty poorly overall.
Well, about that...
LAFC have a lot of talent, they’ve traded away a starter and a part-time starter in recent days, something few other teams in MLS can do.
But they play like there’s always sand in the proverbial gears. Vela has been on a roll lately, Rossi has had a few good moments, although he’s been quieter than expected this season. Jose Cifuentes looks better this season, and Kim Moon-hwan looks genuinely good. Tomas Romero looks like he has plenty of promise.
But most of the collective group doesn’t look like they’re taking a step up. That can be hard to do year over year over year, and some shake-ups are necessary. But the midfield is no longer the dominant force it was in 2019. The attack is scoring far, far fewer goals than the last few seasons. The defense is decent statistically, to be honest, which makes Bradley’s statement that they have “defended as a team well all year” somewhat true. But they lead MLS in dropped points and guess what? That’s a result of conceding late goals again and again and again.
I still think this team is good and perhaps they are regressing to the mean after playing out of their skulls for a long stretch. But they don’t have their mojo, any way you slice it.
The question, then, is whether they’re going to be suffering more terrible losses this season, or if they’re merely going to struggle but not actually fall apart completely. We don’t know, that’s a mystery right now.
I still believe this team can turn it around, but we’ve gone from LAFC having a bad start, to pretty consistently struggling for half the season. There’s another half to come, so they could still come good, but teams usually can’t flip a switch and suddenly get good. I don’t think LAFC are purposely dogging it and you can see the struggle, the suffering for long patches of pretty much every game. To me, it’s unlikely this team will rip off a 15-game winning streak this year.
But is this their level, or will it get worse? Hopefully this will end up being all too gloomy, but we’ll see what happens.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.