2019 LAFC Tactics and Predictions
By: Andrew Doran
It will have been 122 days since the Los Angeles Football Club have played in a game that meant anything. 122 days ago on Sunday, LAFC was knocked out of the MLS playoffs unceremoniously, losing to Real Salt Lake 3-2 at the Banc of California Stadium. That game finished an epic 2018 season with an empty, bitter taste in many fans mouths.
As any season goes, a second-year team or an established franchise, there comes a point when they need to pick themselves up and move on. That time for LAFC official starts on Sunday when they host Sporting KC to kick off their second ever season. Before the ball is kicked off in front of the raucous crowd that is starting to make the Banc of California Stadium famous, let’s look into what fan should expect for the 2019 season.
Unlike last season, LAFC already has a solid lineup. If you listened to the Heart of LAFC podcast, episode 65, Josef Zacher mentioned that LAFC last year had players that were left to rot on the bench all season because they didn’t have another purpose. For the 2019 season, LAFC is not going to have that problem as every player is going to fight to make the starting XI each week. While a majority of the starting XI that LAFC fans are used to from last season have not changed much, the bench has gone from an afterthought to being one of the biggest improvement from last year.
As the season kicks off on Sunday, everyone wants to know what style and system LAFC is going to play. After watching two preseason games this year, it’s hard to say what LAFC is actually going to do. Personally, I think they are going to play a hybrid 4-3-3 system. What do I mean by hybrid? We’ll get to that in a second; first, see how LAFC is going to line up at kickoff:
LAFC will for sure have four defenders on the backline: Jordan Harvey, Eddie Segura, Walker Zimmerman, and Steven Beitashour. While being pressed during various points at the preseason games, LAFC had a solid backline, starting with Zimmerman and Segura. The communication between the two defenders is going to catch a lot of teams by surprise as it did against Atlanta United and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Zimmerman and Segura have a spark between them and know exactly where the other is going without a word being said. Beitashour and Harvey have the presence of mind and experience to collapse into the box if more pressure is needed at any point.
Moving forward up the field, you have Mark-Anthony Kaye, Andre Horta, and Lee Nguyen. Kaye is going to pick up where he left off last year, not allowing for a sophomore slump in his second year in MLS. In the two games I saw during the preseason, Kaye had a feistiness about himself, charging for the ball all the time and making clean passes to other players. Horta, when healthy, is hopefully ready to prove to LAFC that he is worth the Designated Player spot the club has used on him. While he is battling a quad injury right now, he will hopefully be ready to go come the first month of the season and we will see how much he has changed for the season. Nguyen will continue to be the calming midfielder that fans came to love last season. Nguyen has the ability to dictate play from his spot up top from the three midfielders. He also is the best LAFC player at finding space and threading the ball towards the open field, hoping that one of the forwards can get to it.
Speaking of forwards, let’s get to them! Starting from the left, Diego Rossi will continue to hold down his spot on that side of the pitch. His quickness, agility, and ability to finish from there and the middle of the field will continue to help LAFC. On the opposite side of the pitch will be the 2018 MLS MVP finalist, Carlos Vela. While Vela did get injured in the last preseason game against Vancouver, he did not suffer a tear or major damage, so he should be ready to go for the start of the season. The offense is going to run through Vela, so it’s massively imperative that he stays healthy for as long as possible. While the striker role is up in the air, Christian Ramirez will be one of the main men for the season. With call-ups for the United States national team in January, he is only going to see more minutes in the Black and Gold.
Now, how is LAFC going to play a hybrid 4-3-3? See the formation below to try and make sense:
During the preseason, every time LAFC was pressing on offense, the shape changed immediately. Harvey and Beitashour moved up past the halfway line and became part of the midfield, overlapping both Kaye and Horta. Zimmerman and Segura stayed back to allow for a two-line defense. Horta and Kaye spread more to the sides, allowing for more room in the midfield for Nguyen, Rossi, and Vela. Ramirez stayed as the highest point in the LAFC attack, stalking in front of goal. LAFC can go from a 4-3-3 to essentially a 2-5-3. This formation is really aggressive, but LAFC was able to deploy it successfully a few times during the preseason, especially against Atlanta United who played LAFC like it was a game with points on the line.
It will be really interesting to find out what LAFC will do in certain situations during the regular season. How will they play teams like Colorado who is known for parking the bus against high offensive power teams? And how will they counter teams like New York Red Bulls or Atlanta United that are known for their own high offense and goal scoring ability? It will be one thing that I look forward to the course of the season.
One of the main keys for LAFC this coming season will the adjustment from its inaugural season. All the teams across MLS have plenty of tape on LAFC on how to neutralize the attacking threat they constantly possess. LAFC is no longer the new kids on the block thanks to FC Cincinnati, so it will require LAFC to think outside of the box and attack and show different formations.
For the 2019 season, LAFC will be competing to two different competitions, the MLS regular season and the U.S Open Cup. With a new route to the CONCACAF Champions Leauge by winning the U.S. Open. I expect LAFC to take the competition seriously, just as they did last season. Especially now that more of our core starting XI have a green card, allowing them to play in the competition without penalty, Los Angeles FC will be one of the strongest teams in the field.
In MLS, I expect LAFC to make the playoffs again, but I see a small regression from last season. Even with the stronger bench, LAFC is still going to hit a minor sophomore slump. LAFC is going to have work harder during the course of the year to continue to show new formations and some players on the squad are going to have to bring their game to another level in order for LAFC to maintain their high Western Conference position. I expect LAFC to get 4th place in the conference and hopefully make it to the Western Conference Finals. Making it to the MLS Cup might be a tough in the Westen Conference, especially with the likes of the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC, but if LAFC is clicking, they have the opportunity to beat anyone.
YOU CAN FOLLOW ANDREW ON TWITTER AT @APDORAN. FEEL FREE TO SEND COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS, OR IDEAS TO HIM!