San Jose vs LAFC: Preview
By Benjamin Virgen (3/29/19)
Did someone say “road trip”?
After yet another Hollywood ending 2-1 victory, this time over Real Salt Lake, LAFC travel up to northern California for Week 5 of the 2019 MLS season to face the winless San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. The match will be broadcasted on Univision with kickoff scheduled for 12:30 pm. Both clubsare living opposite realities with LAFC at the top of the WesternConference while San Jose is at the bottom of the table with three losses in as many games. Based on recent results and rankings, one may assume that it should not be a problem for LAFC to get their first road win of the season, right? Wrong.
In a season where LAFC have successfully avenged their losses from last year (so far), San Jose are looking for revenge of their own against their state rivals. The Earthquakes have yet to get a win over LAFC after losing both meetings last season, including the 4-3 thriller with a stoppage-time winning goal from former LAFC defender Joao Moutinho. It has not been a great start for new head coach Matias Almeyda but the Argentine has given his team an identity of combativeness and physicality, something they lacked all season in 2018. For a team with three consecutive losses trying to establish a style of play, the FIFA international break was the best thing that could have happened to San Jose.
San Jose: A Tough Team With Weaknesses
The first ten minutes of the match will be very important on Saturday as it might dictate the outcome and flow of the time remaining. In three games so far, San Jose have only scored two goals. Both of those goals have come within the first 10 minutesbut their leads havevanished by the end of the game. On top of the motivation of ending LAFC’s unbeaten run, getting their first win against the Black & Gold and giving their home fans something to celebrate, the Earthquakes will be looking for that early lead in attempt to control tempo of the game and deviate LAFC from their possession-style football with man-to-man battles. One of San Jose’s strengths is the fight for possession, the competitiveness in their players and the pressure they put on their opponents. In their first three matches, San Jose has actually held more possession of the ball than their adversaries. Although having the ball more doesn’t always translate to a positive result, it limits the opponent’s chances of scoring. LAFC are a team that takes initiative in all of their games so it will be interesting to see if the Earthquakes can prevent the Black & Gold from getting into a rhythm in the early minutes.
When you have a team that is under a new head coach with a new system, new ideas and trying to establish a style of play, there will be hardships. For the first two home games, Almeydapointed out distractions, lack of focus and defensive errors as the main contributors to starting the season 0-3. In the game vs Minnesota, Almeyda mentioned how his team was not mentally focused for the full 90 minutes and were just missing that final shot in the final third of the field. When the team went to New York to play the Red Bulls, Almeyda praised his players for their first half performance and led 1-0 at the half. The second half was a completely different story as San Jose became relaxed and ended up losing the game 4-1. It is apparent that it’s going to take some time for these 2019 Earthquakes to start gelling as they are still figuring things out. However, San Jose is still a dangerous team that will look to frustrate and disrupt LAFC’s ball movement with combativeness and physicality.
LAFC: Keep Moving
This week has been a bittersweet one for LAFC. While all international players were able to return for training from their respective national teams, there are some lingering injuries that will prevent some players from making the trip to San Jose. Bob Bradley confirmed this week that Andre Horta, Lee Nguyen and Rodolfo Zelaya are all out for this match due to injury and will stay in Los Angeles to recover. On the positive side, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Peter-Lee Vassell and Christian Ramirez are available for selection with the Canadian midfielder likely returning to the starting lineup. After Thursday’s practice, Kaye was asked about what he expects from San Jose on the pitch: “The game will be very physical and we got a little taste of it in preseason when they came [to Los Angeles] but at the end of the day, we take every game the same way so it’s always about us and how we can play our football. We are definitely going there to get a result”. Like Kaye said, as long as LAFC can remain composed and play their style, a win is very much on the horizon.
There are 2 keys to winning this game: 1) take advantage of San Jose’s distractions and defensive errors and 2)movement. The Earthquakes are a team with players that can lose focus very quickly, especially if they are down on the scoreboard. Teams have been able to score on SJ off their own mistakes and players like Carlos Vela, AdamaDiomande and Diego Rossi need to be ready with quick reactions and punish them. With Almeydafavoring the man-to-man, one-on-one duels, LAFC players will need to get creative in their movements to disorganize and break down the San Jose marking. Bradley talked on the difficulty of this match and how important movement will be: “They’re a hard team to play against where getting control and rhythm of the game is not easy. You fight that with movement (the man-to-man defensive style). You can’t find space in the same way so in certain moments you have to find the right way to move into space. You have to find some good ways as a team to create some double movements that challenge the markers a little bit.” Bradley has some experience playing against Argentine coaches at the national team level in the past with the same type of defensive ideas (Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli), so he knows what it takes to break down those types of teams and hopefully the players can execute what he wants from them.
This will not be an easy match for LAFC but certainly one they are capable of winning with the right mentality and fight. Although being an away match, LAFC will not be alone with a reported 800+ supporters from the 3252 making the trip to San Jose (the biggest road trip yet). This will be my first away game covering the team and my excitement cannot be contained. See you all in San Jose!
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