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Sounders v. Los Angeles FC: Three Questions

Saturday’s match (1:00 PM PT on FOX, Apple TV for free) features the best two teams of the past five years and one of Seattle’s rare bogeymen.

MLS: New England Revolution at Los Angeles FC
Will Aaron Long start or is he a part time player for LAFC?
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC owns the head-to-head matchups between these two giants of MLS. Since 2018 when the second LA squad joined the league, they are 7-5-3, +3 against the Sounders. The Black & Gold took two Supporters’ Shields and an MLS Cup. The Seattle Sounders own a Concacaf Champions League title, an MLS Cup title and another MLS Cup final appearance in that same stretch.

There’s a reason why big FOX wanted this early season match between the Western Conference giants. They draw eyeballs.

Seattle is 4-1-2, +8 against Los Angeles FC at Lumen Field in all competitions, the only loss coming in LA’s first-ever match. The visitors are good, but home field tends to dominate this series — Brian Schmetzer’s only road win in LA was the Better than Bob game.

For Angels on Parade, Alicia answers Three Questions.

SaH: How will LAFC’s strong CCL lineup impact squad rotation for the match against the Sounders?

AoP: I think we’ll see a few changes to LAFC’s lineup in Seattle, but probably not too much more than that. Steve Cherundolo has been making incremental changes game-to-game to open the season, with the early-season fixture congestion, and after he made a ton of changes for a road game last year during a desired U.S. Open Cup run and lost 3-0, I suspect he won’t go back to that approach unless he’s truly forced. Chances are we’ll see something like a rotated centerback in, a rotated midfielder in, and a rotated forward line player in, and then plenty of changes off the bench in the second half. Plus, with a full week to rest before the next game after this, I imagine this caps off an “opening run” for the team and they’ll make adjustments to starting XIs and rotations heading into April.

SaH: Seattle was also in the hunt for Aaron Long. Now that he’s healthy he’s got to be starting regularly, right (also asking for my fantasy team)?

AoP: Speaking of rotations... I’ve been surprised that Long has been used pretty sparingly so far in his LAFC tenure. Part of that is because he had a knock heading into the season, and part is probably adjusting to a style of play quite a bit different than what he played with the Red Bulls, but basically Giorgio Chiellini — 38 years young — has kept Long out of the lineup. Over time, I don’t expect this imbalance to continue, between Chiellini’s age and penchant for injury and Long being a key addition this season. And the good news is that this has given Long a chance to integrate somewhat slowly into the lineup for LAFC, which should help in the long run for him and the team.

But for Fantasy purposes, I do think Cherundolo is likely going to run a three-man rotation at centerback for two spots as long as he’s able to, and so you probably ought to keep an eye on lineup news dropping before setting and forgetting your Fantasy team. My hunch is that Long starts against the Sounders, but I’m not yet ready to write that in pen.

SaH: How’s the offense designed now as Vela fades a bit?

AoP: First, I’ll say that Vela quietly had a very good year last year, after two down campaigns coming off the MVP year. Those MVP years are supernovas, we all know players won’t replicate the eye-popping stats even if they’re still very good.

But Vela turned into more of a provider last season. LAFC finally seemed to harness his corner kick service with fairly consistent goals and instead of being the primary scoring option, he mixed setting up teammates with scoring himself, to good results. I expect the same will continue — he always was kind of a tweener anyway in attack, and this is a reasonable way for him to extend his career and remain productive without being disappointed he’s “only” scoring a dozen goals in league play.

As for the offense more broadly, LAFC have always been built on having a few good scoring options, and that hasn’t really changed. While losing Cristian Arango may or may not end up costing LAFC on the field, wide forward Denis Bouanga has been on a roll to open 2023 and seems to be showing that yes, he can be a reliable scorer, while I think youngster Kwadwo Opoku, who had a breakout season last year, could potentially end up filling the No. 9 mantle without LAFC needing to sign a bigger name. Opoku is versatile and I most like his ability to create his own shot, which makes him more versatile than most of the No. 9s we’ve seen at the club. Ultimately, with Bouanga, Vela, Opoku and newcomer Stipe Buik interchanging in a more fluid forward line, getting occasional goals from midfielders and defenders, and set piece tallies, the approach this year in attack is really more evolution than revolution.

Check out Angels on Parade for their previews.

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