The Supporters’ Shield Isn’t Out Of Reach (Even If It Is)

A sloppy, flawed, and unscientific argument against LAFC purely fueled by stubbornness by someone who doesn’t actually know anything. Please refrain from using logic to dismantle my arguments.

Sure, things may look pretty grim right now as far as end-of-season Supporters’ Shield hoisting in Seattle goes. But not all hope is lost. If you completely ignore the fact that LAFC has a lot of good soccerers at midfield and forward who are all really good at doing soccer goals, there’s a chance, primarily based on optimism, that Seattle can raise the Shield at the final whistle on October 6. This isn’t the time to give up on it.

TLDR Version

The summary conclusion of this overwritten sorta-analysis is that the Sounders have had it way harder this season and even though LAFC have a phenomenal starting XI, if they join the injuries/international/suspension train that everyone else is on, the Shield will be fair game. Quit reading now if you were hoping for something legitimate to read.

For the two of you who are continuing, thank you for humoring me. Now, much like my 16 years of education, I’ve shown my work below in an intentionally incoherent manner in hopes that no one will realize that I glossed over a lot of important elements.

Their play on the field is great, but it’s their hamstrings that are invincible.

Much of LAFC’s run has been made possible by an infuriatingly clean bill of health. They have played nine of their 16 matches with their first choice starting XI. For two matches, Lee Nguyen had the starting role over Latif Blessing and three matches Diomande seemed to have the starting role over Christian Ramirez before losing his starting position after an injury. I basically take that to mean LAFC have two players on their bench that are basically starters, but whatever. I’m just ignoring that. Across those nine games, they have collected a tidy sum of 25 points, dropping points only to Chicago at home. I have no idea how that happened. In those games, they have scored 26 of their 39 goals and conceded only three.

Compare that to the Sounders’ success with their full starting XI. The first four matches of the season were the only matches where Seattle has rolled out their ideal XI. In those four games, the Sounders went 3-0-1 (10 points) with 10 goals scored and three goals against. Seattle, of course, failed to break Vancouver’s bunker and I’d say that basically evens out with whatever happened between LAFC and Chicago. The two teams are pretty even in getting results with their ideal eleven, granted the sample sizes are very different. Like I said, this is not scientific. Let’s move on.

Okay, so they’re not totally invincible…

Back to LAFC. For five matches they have rolled out a starting XI with only one change; four of which were for Steven Beitashour, who has missed three matches due to injury (1 concussion, 2 hamstring), and one he was rested for….I guess. I can’t really tell. The remaining one match saw Andre Horta start in place of Kaye against Real Salt Lake. Diomande suffered a hamstring injury as a starter, but it's debatable if he'd keep getting the start over Ramirez anyway, so I'm not counting him. Across these five matches, LAFC managed a more mortal record of 3-0-2, for 11 points. They scored 12 goals and conceded an eyebrow-raising eight of their 13 goals.

For Seattle, there have only been two matches with a single change. Both were Will Bruin stepping in for an injured Raul Ruidiaz. In those two games, Seattle managed a perfect 2-0-0 record with four goals scored and two against. Not too shabby.

What happens if we bring them down to our level?

Finally, we get to rotation station, where LAFC changed more than one player in their starting XI. These two matches (only two!) were played against Vancouver and FC Dallas and saw four and three changes to their first choice XI, respectively. Traveling to the Great White North to face off against Vancouver, their only loss, LAFC started with three changes to their ideal back four and sat Kaye for Vassell at left mid. Away at Dallas, LAFC sat Ramirez, Atuesta, and Harvey for Nguyen, Andre Horta, and El-Munir, respectively. They collected a single point there (thanks to a penalty kick in the 80th minute), to bring their record to 0-1-1 using a rotated squad, and scored a single goal (Dallas, you only needed to hold on for 10 more minutes!). Yikes.

In Seattle, those two games for LAFC look pretty cute. Counting Dad as an injury change until his official retirement, Seattle have played a total of nine matches where they changed more than one player in their starting XI. Three matches saw two changes, another three matches saw three changes, two matches saw four changes, and in the match at Philadelphia, Seattle made a whopping seven changes to their ideal starting XI. This has resulted in a 1-2-3 record (6pts) with seven goals for and eight against.

But I’ll admit, comparing the two sides in this manner requires a lot of what-ifs. Who knows how the Sounders would’ve done against LAFC, had they played to full strength lineups against each other? LAFC made multiple changes based on strategic rotation during schedule congestion. It might be harsh to criticize them for only collecting one point when it may have been their intent to not exert themselves too much, anyway. Seattle have been forced into frequent changes, as their players’ legs are routinely sacrificed to the hamstring and knee gods. When that’s the case, going into every match when missing players can’t necessarily be a "let’s just bunker and maybe get something out of this strategy" if you plan to be at the top of the table by the end of the season. That’s inevitably going to create more opportunities for points, but also gaps that the bunker-for-the-point strategy would not. I think…

Short Rest and Seeing the Country

What about their schedules? I’m just going to ignore the regular matchday thing and focus on fixture congestion because I’m in total control of the scope here. LAFC have a total of five congested fixtures scheduled (I’ve decided that means four days or less between matches). 14 matches are played across these five stretches and seven of those are away. Seattle, on the other hand, play six congested fixtures for a total of 17 matches with nine of those being away. For those matches, not including the flight back home if there isn’t a quick turnaround on the other side, Seattle will have traveled 21,561 miles on short rest, compared to LAFC’s 13,310, which is an 8,251 difference.

So far, including the trip to Montreal, Seattle have traveled 9,981 of their miles. That’s nearly three times as many as LAFC, who have only traveled 3,435 miles, which is basically the amount of ground Nico Lodeiro covered in the match against Philadelphia. I’d like to say that the script will flip and things will even out, but alas, I cannot. The Sounders have 11,580 more miles to travel during congested fixtures this season. LAFC? 9,875. They don’t have to travel out of conference once during their fixture congestion. Seattle will have to do it three more times (NYC, CLB, DCU), adding to the two times they’ve already done it (PHI, MTL). Those miles matter. Planes suck and tall players get squished. It’s a bummer.

That’s not to say that LAFC won’t suffer at all. Bob Bradley will probably make multiple changes for at least the middle three matches in those remaining congested fixtures. Even if the teams they face make rotation changes, too, Vancouver’s next men up showed the league that LAFC are as vulnerable without their first choice XI as any team in the league.

"I’ve placed a weakness deep within the system. A flaw so small and powerful, they will never find it."

So are LAFC bad at anything? How about their defense? *Shrug* LAFC have given up 13 goals in 16 games this season. All 13 have been scored inside the 18-yard box. Nine of those goals have been scored off plays down the left side and seven of those goals were scored when RB Steven Beitashour was out of the lineup. It would seem he’s quite important. And he’s also seemingly the only starter for their team that is affected by injuries. At all. One goal was scored from the right side off a dreadful back pass that was collected and scored by Jordan Morris, one goal was scored from a set piece header from the right side, one goal was scored by LAFC on themselves, and one was scored from right side service. Not a lot of variety there, but I guess the left flank is where you’d want to focus your attack. Getting beat with pressure and pace on the wings and crossing low into the box, mostly from the left side, plus giving up a couple penalty kicks are the ways they’ve conceded goals. So, maybe do more of that.

Also, LAFC aren’t very good on artificial turf. It won’t matter much going forward, as they have only one game remaining on their schedule that will be played on it (NER). But either way, they’ve played three matches already (VAN, SEA, POR) and besides the kickboxing competition in Oregon, they haven’t been all that clinical on the artificial ground. It’s a "thing" for them.

The Sounders, on the other hand, need to learn to adjust to natural grass surfaces quicker, as 14 of their 34 matches are played on it. Improvements on basic passing in the first half of away grass games, and we might not concede first half goals so easily. Or maybe we will. I don’t know.

Look, I don’t really know if I’m actually saying anything here.

But I do know that, even though I assume Caleb Porter meant calling LAFC the "Manchester City of MLS" as an insult, LAFC aren’t that. This league isn’t built for a Manchester City. A Riyad Mahrez isn’t coming off anyone’s bench and our centerback depth is probably as close as it gets to Vincent Kompany rotating in.

I know "stay healthy" is too obvious, but a key component of success, in MLS especially, comes down to staying healthy and available. LAFC has been some kind of miracle health squad so far this season and I don’t think they’ve had any suspensions. We have not been that. Maybe they’ll continue their tear, will stay healthy, won’t skid, and the Supporters’ Shield standings will never change at the top. But maybe they will. Their depth will be tested for one reason or another and now, every team in the league wants a piece of them.

The Sounders and LAFC have faced two very different sets of challenges this season – getting close to comparing apples to oranges. LAFC have been record-breaking good. But to say that they’re so hands down better than us that they can’t be caught? No. I don’t buy it. True - we don’t control our own destiny in the race for the Shield. That’s our fault. But this isn’t over yet.

LAFC have scored two game-winning goals in stoppage time and they’ve been on the favorable end of a couple of questionable red and yellow card decisions that have both prevented them from dealing with suspensions while forcing other teams to do exactly that. A few more minutes of concentration from players (and refs) and we could be telling a very different story. But we’re telling this story now and that’s why we’re looking up at them in the standings. It just doesn’t mean they’ll always be on the benefiting end of everything. We've had it rough and face an uphill battle. But their good games aren't the equal but opposite of our bad ones. The tides can always turn and luck can swing our way. Don’t sell short what our guys can achieve this season.

I expect our players to never roll over. They’ll keep fighting ‘til the end. But for us fans, if nothing else, remember that when it comes to Seattle, siempre hay fe.

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