Ahead of tonight’s Sounders game against LAFC, we talk with Alicia Rodriguez of Angels On Parade about what to expect from the matchup, and what’s new with the Black and Gold since the teams last met three weeks ago.
Sounder at Heart: Since the restart following the MLS is Back Tournament, LAFC has seemingly been a mixed bag of performances. Is the dip in form really just because Vela hasn’t been playing or are there deeper issues for Bob Bradley?
Angels on Parade: I think it’s mostly not been because of Vela, to be honest. Paradoxically, he may be the best player in the league, but LAFC are still scoring at a pretty incredible clip, and Diego Rossi has largely taken the mantle for an extended period as the primary scoring option and (I think) someone who should be in the MLS MVP discussion at this point in the season. Having said that, obviously LAFC would benefit from having Vela around, and I’m not shocked that the current MVP being missing for most of the season is having a knock-on effect.
But I think the bigger issue is LAFC’s defense and goalkeeping have been poorer than usual and that’s led to several bad losses lately. Bob Bradley tried to go with Kenneth Vermeer at GK, the experienced Dutch import who was intended to be the final piece for a title-winning team, but as you likely recall from the last time these teams played, he hasn’t looked like an upgrade. So Bradley has told Pablo Sisniega the No. 1 is his to lose, basically, so if he doesn’t mess up, he will likely remain the starter.
And then the defense is just stretched. They haven’t adequately replaced Walker Zimmerman yet, and every time they lose badly, that trade looks worse. They’re waiting for Andy Najar to get healthy so he can start at right back, and then Tristan Blackmon can move to CB permanently, but neither player has been fully healthy. When half of the defense is a big question, and the goalkeeper was benched, there are some issues.
I also think this game is going to be huge for LAFC’s morale to see if they actually have their mindset back.
SAH: I’ve seen reports of Brian Rodriguez being linked with a move to Italian side Torino. I won’t ask you to speculate on the transfer rumor mill, but selling Rodriguez just a year after buying him seems odd. Has he not really fit in, and if so, why not? Or is it a story of LAFC looking to cash in on a brilliant young player?
AoP: Rodriguez has been linked with a move to Italy since about five days after he signed at LAFC, to be honest. I think his agent is working really hard in that regard, and admittedly, full Uruguayan internationals are usually pretty popular in Serie A anyway.
To answer your question, if Rodriguez were to be sold, it would be for a little bit of both reasons. He’s played regularly and while he has some chemistry with his teammates, there’s a lot of “huffing and puffing” that you don’t see with the rest of the team. He is typically the one whose offside negates a goal, or he’ll shoot a field goal with a teammate wide open in a better scoring position. To an extent, Rossi set the curve so high that Rodriguez looks disappointing so far in contrast — I think Rodriguez’s growing pains are fairly normal, but there is still a question of if it’s going to fully click for him with LAFC.
Of course, if the offer is good, LAFC will absolutely pull the trigger. I think they want to make some kind of profit and not take a bath like they did with Andre Horta previously, but if a European club hits their valuation with a legit bid, he’ll be moving on.
SAH: When LAFC has won matches since the restart it’s because they tend to score a bunch of goals. What’s been the most effective way for teams to stop LAFC from doing that?
AoP: Score on them first and make them feel bad. That’s what happened with the Sounders, right?
LAFC went down early Sunday against Portland, admittedly, but Seattle have perfected the formula with basically two games: Score quickly, push them around enough to take them off their game, then close up shop in the back. I think LAFC’s a little more wobbly than they’ve been, but that blueprint is still pretty apparent to me.