It’s getting to the point where there’s no introduction needed when the Seattle Sounders play Los Angeles FC. Two of the best teams in MLS are facing off again, what’s not to love about that? We asked Alicia Rodriguez from Angels On Parade three questions ahead of the match tonight.
Sounder at Heart: LAFC entered the tournament without the best player in MLS, Carlos Vela. That hasn’t prevented them from being the highest scoring team through the group stage. What’s LAFC done right offensively? Who should Sounders fans keep an eye on?
Angels On Parade: It’s very weird to say seriously that Vela is the best player in MLS and also that LAFC can score pretty freely without him around, but it’s the truth. I think Vela obviously provides a focal point, both for his teammates and opponents, but I had a feeling second option Diego Rossi would get a chance to show if he could be the top attacking star and he’s really done it, with five goals so far in Orlando. LAFC may have benefitted from the shutdown freezing transfer windows to keep Rossi a bit longer, but it’s also clear that this is the best opportunity yet for him to show he deserves a move to Europe in the near future and he’s come through.
LAFC’s strength is really pushing in attack, and in addition to Rossi, Bradley Wright-Phillips got healthy and has a goal so far in each game in the tournament. I’ve always been a big fan of BWP, I think LAFC plays better when they have a “pure” central striker playing with two wide forwards, and he’s playing well, too. And then Brian Rodriguez finally scored in the first group-stage game, so that was a relief, and if he can keep scoring, then LAFC can possibly keep weathering Vela’s loss with no major drop-off.
SAH: On the defensive side of things, LAFC hasn’t been spectacular. LAFC allowed the second most goals in the group. Are there key players missing back there? Why has LAFC been so easy to score on?
AOP: The easy answer here is that LAFC traded away Walker Zimmerman just before the season and have yet to recover. Zimmerman wasn’t perfect — he was especially exposed in the playoff loss to the Sounders, but going from him, an MLS Best XI selection, to Dejan Jakovic or Tristan Blackmon has been a step down so far. Jakovic has played much better than most expected him to, but he’s just not at the level of a regular starter for a contender. Blackmon shows promise but LAFC had been incredibly light at right back too, and recently signed Andy Najar to address that. All of this is to say that LAFC were definitely two players short in the back in defense and could still reasonably be one player short at a vital position.
As for why they’ve been easy to score on, a good deal of that is down to the style played, frankly. Bob Bradley believes in his system, which is fine with posting 4-3 wins. With the risks taken in attack, there are major gaps in defense pretty much all the time, and if LAFC can’t recover on the press or with emergency defending, they’ll get burned. Some fans want to see a change in style, but sorry, you’re just not going to see this team going to a low block with Bradley as the coach.
SAH: There’s a bit of a rivalry brewing between Seattle and LA. LAFC’s certainly gotten the best of the Sounders in the regular season, but Seattle beat LAFC in the Western Conference Final last year. An LAFC employee recently tweeted about getting revenge on Seattle. What do LAFC fans think about this matchup? What would a win over the Sounders mean for the fanbase?
AOP: This is the reverse situation with LAFC’s rivalry with the Galaxy, basically. The Galaxy held an unbeaten record across two regular seasons, until LAFC beat them in the playoffs last year. At this tournament, LAFC got another big win over the Galaxy. Against the Sounders, LAFC were unbeaten in the regular season for two seasons, and then that playoff loss. I think that game really hyped up a budding rivalry between the teams, and if the parallels with the Galaxy rivalry persist, then this will be Seattle’s game. I think fans are excited to try and knock out the Sounders now, naturally. To me, not to get ahead of anything, but if LAFC advance from this game, they need to modulate the excitement to focus on the next game. You can argue that playoff win over the Galaxy, as well as the win over the Galaxy last week, left them flat in their next game and that cost them dearly. If LAFC beat the Sounders but crash out in the quarterfinals, the fans won’t be happy at all.
The reserve set of questions can be found here.