Los Angeles FC is back to dominating the league. Now coached by legendary men’s national team player Steve Cherundolo, the club is off to a greater than two points a game start, and now has a defense. One of four sides with double-digit goal differential so far in 2022, LAFC is coming to Seattle trying to stave off a team that could challenge them for the Western Conference title, if the Sounders can play as well as they have since winning the Concacaf Champions League.
Seattle Sounders are without Raúl Ruidíaz, who will miss at least the next two games. That may put a damper on the attacking options that Brian Schmetzer has available, now merely able to count on his two 2020 MVP candidates and the three uninjured ‘21 All Stars — this team is still stocked full of talent even without João Paolo, Raúl and Yeimar.
A win wouldn’t lift Seattle any higher in the standings, but would give them a winning MLS record.
As a reminder, there is a Seattle Mariners double-header and a Reign match in the evening. The SoDo/Pioneer Square area will be packed. Take transit if you can.
For Angels on Parade, Alicia answers Three Questions.
SaH: You just wrote about this at Angels on Parade, but what’s going on with Carlos Vela? He’s not up to his MVP-caliber performances, but he’s still rather important if LAFC want to make a Shield and/or Cup run, right?
AoP: Vela’s actually been pretty solid this season. He’s got six goals and three assists in league play in 13 games, and has dealt with minor injuries intermittently, too. He can still win games on his own, essentially. But the big thing is that his contract is set to run out in a couple weeks, which is truly bizarre and what I wrote about this week. Will he ever get back to his 2019 form? No. Is he still vital to LAFC and a potential leading player for a contender in MLS? Absolutely. We’ve been told several times by reputable pundits that a deal is right around the corner, and that’s been said for months at this point. Meanwhile, no news. If Vela leaves midseason, it will both be pretty much unprecedented under these circumstances, and barring an immediate Vela-like replacement, would dent LAFC’s title hopes significantly. Hopefully this turns out to be much ado about nothing and a deal is done in the end, but it’s a very strange scenario with no certainty at this moment.
SaH: Second in shots taken per game, lowest shots defended in the league — is LAFC now a total package rather than a run-and-gun side?
AoP: They have definitely improved on defense this season and that has helped them tremendously. Maxime Crepeau could be following Stefan Frei’s trajectory of “getting pumped in goal on a Canadian team but playing well under the circumstances to moving to a contender and looking even better with a superior supporting cast” in his career, but LAFC’s investment in experience in the offseason has paid off with both improved depth and a better quality XI.
At the same time, the attack is still pretty solid. I think LAFC can survive without Vela on the field for all 90 minutes these days, but he is still the gamebreaker and without him the margins get more thin. Steve Cherundolo hasn’t really changed much in the way of the attacking style, and that means the team didn’t need to adjust a whole lot in that regard when he replaced Bob Bradley. But Bradley’s style at times really proved to be a liability in terms of defensive approach, and Cherundolo balanced things better and that’s a big factor in them being off to a strong start to the season.
SaH: Was Sánchez or Acosta the bigger offseason acquisition?
AoP: I think the “flashier” player, in a position that isn’t necessarily meant to be flashy, has been Ilie Sanchez, believe it or not. He looked wrecked at the end of his Sporting Kansas City tenure, but he seems rejuvenated right now, I guess a change of scenery was what was needed for him. He’s essentially become the new metronome in midfield with Eduard Atuesta gone, and that’s a pretty key role for LAFC. At the same time, he’s strong in defense, too, and LAFC definitely needed it in midfield.
Meanwhile, Acosta has been more of a good soldier, filling in at right back at times, even though he has admitted he would prefer midfield, and kind of quietly doing the dirty work otherwise. There’s been a lot of talk of his set piece service, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think he’s really shown that yet with LAFC. But as the younger player and a current international in contention to go the World Cup in the fall, he should have plenty of motivation to really be his best over the second half of the MLS season.