By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1
The Los Angeles Football Club starts off the second half of the season on the right foot but can they keep it up?
Prior to dominating in 3-1 victory in Houston over the weekend; the black-and-gold was eliminated from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals this past Wednesday.
It would have been nice to see the club win the U.S. Open Cup championship that they were so close to claiming last season, but now LAFC will continue their run for the 2019 MLS Cup.
But first, let’s analyze the first part of the season and what I think LAFC could improve moving forward:
LAFC is currently sitting atop of the Western Conference standings with 46 points and has made the Banc a fortress with a 8-0-1 home record. They also have a solid road record of 6-2-3 and are leading the Supporters Shield race.
Below them is tight race in the standings with the Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and Minnesota United slowly climbing up all within a point of a each other.
After falling to the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road in April for their first loss of the season, the Los Angeles Football Club exacted revenge in a historic 6-1 blowout at the Banc of California stadium on July 6.
It was a statistics dominated match – LAFC has collectively scored 11 goals between both matches – making them the quickest team in MLS history to reach 100 points in the post-shootout era.
Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi continue to be a pain in everyone’s side having collectively scored 30 goals between them. While his teammate ranks first in both categories, Rossi comes in fifth for (66) shots and second for (32) shots on goal.
According to MLS’ playoffs tracker, if the playoffs started tomorrow, LAFC would earn a bye week as the top seed team. And would play the winner of the Minnesota United vs. the San Jose Earthquakes match in the western conference semifinals.
But considering Decision Day is October 6 with playoffs beginning on October 16 – the club still has some work to do to ensure that future is a possibility.
Another game. Another slightly heavy rotation.
Head Coach, Bob Bradley, has stressed multiple times that the current schedule is ‘ridiculous,’ and I agree.
True to his word. Bradley sat out Carlos Vela for the first time this season, giving Steven Beitashour the captain’s armband on Friday. Jordan Harvey, Latif Blessing, Diego Rossi, and Christian Ramirez joined Pablo Sisniega on the bench.
The match saw Tyler Miller back in goal and Peter-Lee Vassell earn the start in Houston, upon return from international duty.
This move isn’t unusual, as for the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the head coach opted to rest a few starters. And started Dejan Jakovic, Mohammed El-Munir, Adama Diomande (who appeared in the 18 for Kansas City), and Lee Nguyen – moving Tristian Blackmon back into the left wing.
In addition to losing Andre Horta earlier this season, LAFC announced on Monday that defender Niko Hämäläinen has returned to English side Queens Park Rangers following the conclusion of his six-month loan with LAFC.
The Battle of the Keepers
Pablo Sisniega has impressed us in the absence of Tyler Miller. The 24-year-old keeper stepped right in and created a 4-2-0 record in just one month.
Miller has racked up a 12-1-4 record with LAFC in 2019, thus far. As well, recording six clean sheets and allowing just 14 goals along the way. But with Miller going away to serve as the third-string keeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team for the duration of the Gold Cup – he returned to LAFC a bit shaky. However, I believe he can regain his rhythm in time.
Additionally, Philip Ejimadu has been doing well while on loan to USL side, FC Tucson – recording 31 saves, 15 clearances, and three clean sheets.
It seems we finally a strong keeper roster this season.
Carlos Vela leading the league
20 games. 19 goals.
Just give Carlos Vela the Golden Boot already!
The Mexican captain is leading the league in (19) goals, (12) assists, (99) shots, (41) shots on goal and is first in the Audi Player Index ratings with 874 points.
Last week, he was nominated as Player of the Week for the third time this season, along with Team of the Week honors.
Vela has played in every competitive match for LAFC this season, going the full 90 in all, except for two of the Black and Gold’s outings, being replaced with 11 minutes to play in April’s 4-0 victory over D.C. United – putting a target on the captain’s back.
During the Timbers match, the captain was seen limping multiple times – having left the pitch entirely at one point. And even though he sat out his first match in Houston, Vela was seen coaching his teammates from the sidelines during the second half.
Biggest concerns moving forward
Even though LAFC seems unstoppable at this point, I have still a few concerns for the team.
First. Let’s talk schedule.
Last week we saw LAFC do a quick turnaround within 48 hours and SB Nation’s Angels on Parade addressed this issue head on. And quite frankly, I agree with their stance. Given the club was eliminated from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, for the league to allow them to travel to Houston the very next day is ridiculous.
Fitness is still my biggest concern for the team.
Although LAFC has been pretty lucky from crowding up the injury list there are currently three players on the report: Alejandro Guido and Danilo Silva are questionable, while Javier Perez remains out with an ACL Tear.
Scheduling and roster rotation aside, I realize there is always room for error in a match but LAFC continues to make little mistakes from time-to-time.
From Sisniega’s communication error to Harvey’s mistake against Portland, LAFC has gotten lucky in both cases. But if not addressed properly, it can have a ripple effect. Fortunately, LAFC has been great in regaining form during the second half.
After enduring a packed month of international soccer action and a rigorous 48 turnaround, the MLS schedule gets slightly easier for the club until August.
This week, LAFC is back on the road to face the LA Galaxy who are just a striking hour away (two hours if you consider LA traffic) at the Dignity Health Sports Park on Friday, July 19.
Featured Image: LAFC
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