5 Things We Learned From Preseason
By: Benjamin Virgen 2/24/19
Before the preseason started, Bob Bradley aimed for his team to build a foundation on the field and establish it while performing good football. Bradley’s challenge in preseason was to find a balance between the football part and the physical part, which is very important as players reach their top fitness levels to prepare for the start of the season. If you ask me, LAFC have accomplished their preseason goals and are ready for the home opener vs Sporting KC.
Now that preseason has concluded, there are several things that we learned along the way. I go over them here in what has been a productive and beneficial preseason.
-Goalkeeper competition: For the first month of preseason, Tyler Miller was the only signed GK on the roster. As of February 21st, LAFC now have three. The Black & Gold added 23 year-old Pablo Sisniega and 19 year-old Philip Ejimadu to create competition for Miller. Although both players come from playing abroad, neither will occupy an international roster slot but bring international experience with them. Miller played the majority of the games during preseason and will begin the season as the starter, but having Sisniega and Ejimadu chasing his spot will motivate him to remain consistent throughout the year.
-Solidified defense: There were many questions during the offseason about LAFC’s backline, particularly with Walker Zimmerman not signing with the club until six days before preseason training camp. Not only did LAFC resign the core of their defense (Harvey, Silva and Jakovic), they added reinforcements in Colombian Eddie Segura and Libyan Mohammed El-Munir. The partnership of Zimmerman/Segura has been excellent after only playing a few games together as it seems that they have been teammates for years. They don’t even speak the same language! (Segura is still learning English). With league veterans Beitashour and Harvey in the fullback positions, the backline is now arguably LAFC’s strongest asset with solid performances in the preseason regardless of how many goals the team has allowed. Young returnees Shaft Brewer Jr. and Tristan Blackmon along with newcomer Lamar Batista got to see the field during some of the preseason games with Brewer Jr. getting the most action as a right-back or right-wing. With so many experienced defenders, the young guys are fortunate and will learn everything they can to apply it on the pitch.
-Kaye returns: In my opinion, the most important signing during the offseason was Mar-Anthony Kaye. His presence in the midfield is so crucial to Bradley’s system that you can tell right away when he is on the field and when he is not. During the preseason, his playing time has been managed in increments as he just played 70 minutes vs Vancouver. Considering he just came off a 6-month absence due to a season-ending injury, that is very good to see from a player that wants to take on a leadership role in that position. From what I have seen so far, Kaye always moves into open space to receive the ball in the best possible position. This allows the team to use him as an “escape valve” when the opposition is playing a high-press. If he can stay healthy for an entire season, watch out MLS.
-Vela being Vela: The captain has set his mind on leading LAFC to winning MLS Cup and being the league’s MVP in 2019. If the preseason is any indication of how he is going to perform during the regular season, the Mexican international may just achieve his goals. Speaking of goals, Vela has scored four in the preseason, including a brace vs J-League club Vissel Kobe. Naturally, his style of play translates into him holding on to the ball and dribbling. However, his will of wanting to carry the team on his shoulders betrays him at times when players constantly foul him. Vela has gotten better at getting his teammates involved as of late and has been releasing the ball quicker, which makes LAFC much more unpredictable and dangerous.
-The new guys: LAFC started the first week of preseason with a total of 11 training camp invitees that included their three draft picks in the 2019 MLS Draft. Four of those invitees have now officially signed contracts with the club: goalkeeper Phillip Ejimadu, defender Lamar Batista, midfielder Peter-Lee Vassell and forward Adrien Perez. In addition, LAFC also signed 30 year-old forward Rodolfo Zelaya from El Salvador club Alianza and Mexican goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega from Spanish club Real Sociedad. With the exception of Zelaya (injury), the rest of the new signings have accumulated their first minutes with the team. Vassell is the only player of this bunch to not only get a start but to get a full game under his belt during preseason. The Jamaican international has shown plenty of promise during his first few games and already has a goal and assist tallied next to his name. Adrien Perez had an excellent performance vs the defending champions Atlanta United where he scored a goal but we have not seen him since. Batista and Ejimadu add depth to the roster and have seen limited time on the field. Zelaya is currently recovering from a knee injury but should be ready to pay within 2-3 weeks.
On a side note, it is important to mention that both Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta obtained their green cards and will no longer occupy international slots on the roster. LAFC currently have seven international players on their current roster: Eddie Segura, Danilo Silva, Carlos Vela, Andre Horta, Mohamed El-Munir, Peter-Lee Vassell and Adama Diomande. That leaves one international slot open for a potential summer signing.
The preseason left us with good sensations, lessons learned and most importantly, growth. The first team roster is officially up to 26 players as of January 24th pending the possible additions of Javi Perez and Alejandro Guido in the upcoming days. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, roster depth is going to be very important for LAFC’s success this season due to the condensed MLS schedule, domestic cup competition and international call-ups. It appears that LAFC is taking all of that into account and give credit to the John Thorrington and the front office for making it happen.
Now that the preseason is over, the focus is solely on Sporting KC. The home opener is less than a week away and this time it’s for points. The fans are ready, the Banc is ready and the city is ready. Is LAFC ready? I say yes.
Follow me on Twitter @lafcbenjamin to talk LAFC, ask questions or send comments. Thank you for reading and Stay Golden!