With 34 matches over just 25 weeks, the 2021 MLS season is packed full of action. Squad rotation continues to be vital; injuries continue to be a theme. Plus, with the regionalization of the fixture list there will be even more matches between powerhouses like Seattle Sounders FC and LAFC.
This is great for national TV. Seattle is on a national network for the fifth time in six games with another FS1 appearance (Sunday, 6:30 PM PT). Back on April 24 Bob Bradley’s side took the only points off of Brian Schmetzer so far this season. Now as the home team, Seattle are the favorites, even if plagued with injuries.
For Angels on Parade, Alicia answers Three Questions.
SaH: Bob Bradley is not on the hot seat. But, his talk of letting the fans down makes things in LA seem bleaker than their results would indicate. Is Bradley overplaying the pressure on LAFC?
AoP: No, I don’t think so. I think one of the goals LAFC conceded at the weekend to the Galaxy was extremely flukey, but no one wants to hear the coach say “What can you do?” when it’s a rivalry game and your team has never won at their house. Plus, I think LAFC has not yet really hit their groove this season, even if they’ve only lost one game. There are stretches where teams have to grind to get results and it’s definitely a worthy skill to have, but LAFC have played decent but not yet great this year. Clearly they should be aiming higher.
There’s still tons of time for this team to get right and I don’t want to overstate any kind of crisis, because it’s not that kind of thing, either. But standards are sky-high and the team hasn’t hit those heights yet. Hopefully they can before long.
SaH: This is your regularly scheduled question about the health of preseason Golden Boot favorite Carlos Vela.
AoP: He could return this weekend, with Bob Bradley saying Vela is “a possibility” against the Sounders. I don’t expect Vela to start, and there’s a chance he could be held out another game as he recovers from a quad injury, but if he travels, I bet he comes off the bench for 15-20 minutes. Vela’s been pretty good about being smart in coming back from injuries in the past and while I expect he won’t be in peak form considering he’s lost any match fitness he might have picked up from preseason, he could still be good for a chance or two if he gets a late run against the Sounders.
SaH: The defense seems fine, if unspectacular. Who has been the key to controlling the opposition?
AoP: It’s funny, because by the numbers the defense has been substantially improved from last year, and yet one of the sources of consternation is defensive lapses. LAFC drew against Houston in Texas and that was considered a terrible disappointment because they conceded right after they scored, and then against the Galaxy some ill-advised dribbling deep in LAFC’s corner by Jesus David Murillo led to the winning goal for the other side. Bradley called out left back Diego Palacios in his media availability Thursday and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s benched for a game in favor of Marco Farfan, who, to be fair, has looked solid so far for LAFC.
Having said all that, I think by and large LAFC’s defense hasn’t been a liability, *aside* from those couple gaffes. Murillo and Eddie Segura have been strong in central defense, and Palacios/Farfan/Tristan Blackmon have been steady on the flanks. There’s room for growth, too, and Kim Moon-hwan made his debut last weekend off the bench, so he could see some minutes in Seattle. But with Farfan they have more fullback depth than they had last year, and Murillo and Segura are typically a commanding duo in the middle. If they can avoid mistakes and lapses, then LAFC should be in more games, they just need to start scoring at a normal clip again.
Projected LAFC lineup: Sisniega; Blackmon, Murillo, Segura, Farfan; Blessing, Atuesta, Kaye; Baird, Musovski, Rossi