3252 Breakdown - Sporting Kansas City
By: Andrew Doran
For the second consecutive year, LAFC opened up their season with Diego Rossi scoring the first goal and LAFC winning the home opener in the dying moments of the game. I was at the game as a fan but came back home to re-watch parts of the game in order to get a better idea of what happened during this heavyweight Western Conference game. Let’s dive in for a 3252 breakdown!
3 Things that went well:
LAFC maintained their shape a majority of the game. If you read my season preview (if you haven’t, now’s your time) I wrote about LAFC using a 4-3-3 hybrid formation in order to move the ball around. While the lineup will look like a 4-3-3, every time LAFC is pushing the ball forward, they ended up moving into a 2-5-3 formation, with Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey moving forward on the wings. LAFC was able to maintain this shape the whole game and it gave Sporting KC a lot of problems trying to get the ball out of their defensive third. It’s a pretty new concept for LA, so it will be interesting to see how other teams adapt to it, but when LA executes it, they can throw teams off their rhythm.
The newly formed defensive line. Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura are going to be one of, if not the best, best defensive backs in MLS this season. Sporting KC had 0 corner kicks for the duration of the game. Both Segura and Zimmerman did a really good job at winning the ball back and then making the correct pass in order to restart the offensive process. 0 corners for the game also shows that LAFC were not scrambling to get the ball off the line, but throwing it forward when it needed to be.
The mentality of coming back from a goal down. While speaking to a lot of supporters prior to the game, a lot of people mentioned that they were really upset how the team responded to being down in the postseason loss to Real Salt Lake. They didn’t understand some of the tactics and mentality the team had. If LAFC is going to go farther this year, they really needed to change that. Welp, I think this game helps put that idea to bed, at least for a period of time. To fight back with two goals in the second half was impressive, but more so because it was against the only team that beat us twice last year.
2 things that need to be worked on:
Focusing even if there is a bad break. Sporting KC was pressing the ball forward early in the game but LAFC was doing a really good job in not allowing the ball into the box. In an attempted pass from Rossi to Lee Nguyen, Rossi ended up passing it off the referee in the middle. Rossi stopped and threw his arms like as if the referee was going to call the play dead. Of course, in the Law of the Game, the referee is apart of play, so the ball is still alive. Almost everyone from LAFC stopped moving around in the space and Sporting ended up taking advantage of it, scoring 10 seconds later. It was an unlucky break, but the players need to continue as if the Rossi had a bad pass.
Working on ball control when they are stretching the field horizontally. One thing that LAFC really struggled with last season was moving the ball from side to side and not getting too bunched up in the middle of the pitch. This season, they seem to do that better by getting the ball to edges a lot. The only issue though was the ball went out of play just as often, allowing KC to get the ball back easily. I can excuse the season opener because it’s the first intense game of the season, but it could cause trouble if LAFC doesn’t control the ball better.
5 key moments of the game
KC scoring first. As mentioned above, the goal that Sporting scored came off an unlucky break with Rossi’s pass coming off the referee. It set the tone early though because all SKC needed to do going forward was to park the bus, placing all the pressure on the attack of LAFC.
KC’s 5 yellow cards in the first half. While not so much a moment, it was incredible to see the referee dole out 5 yellow cards in one half. For a game that wasn’t insane physical, Kansas City just kept on hacking LAFC left, right, and center. While I don’t think any of the tackles were dirty, it is insane how much they were fouling. You just knew that Sporting would end up regretting the number of yellows as the game progressed further along.
Rossi’s goal. As is tradition, Rossi has to score the first goal of the season! While this goal didn’t come in the 11th minute of the game, it came at an important time in the match. LAFC came out of the locker room in the first two minutes throwing the ball forward three times. Eduard Atuesta had a great ball to the near side of the pitch and Rossi just took it upon himself to get the shot off. After beating two defenders, he curved the ball and it just beat the KC keepers outstretched hand. LAFC was firmly back into the game and you just had a feeling that the game was not going to end in a draw.
KC going down to 10-men. With having 5 players on yellow cards from the first half alone, there was bound to be another yellow given out to one of those players. It ends up being Roger Espinoza, now with 9 red cards in his MLS career. It was an incredibly stupid foul on Mark-Anthony Kaye especially with Espinoza being already on a yellow card. Surprisingly, Kaye was the one who needed to be calmed down, with Zimmerman taking him off to the side to give calming words. Now LAFC was going have about 10 minutes to try and take advantage of being a man up.
Adama Diomande with the winner. Again, as is tradition, LAFC have to win the home opener with one of the last kicks of the game. Before the goal, the Black and Gold started the play-sequence in their defensive third and moved it up the pitch, something they did quite well during the course of the game. LAFC finally found space to get the ball up and it took a lucky deflection off a Sporting KC player and bounced towards both Harvey and Diomande on the near side. Diomande’s control of the ball was incredible, just moving it away from the defender so he couldn’t get it, and he was able to blast it into the top of the net. Cue the crowd going crazy again, all wondering if they were living in a deja vu moment from last season. LAFC finally beat Sporting Kansas City.
2 players of the game
Tyler Miller. Based on the eye-test, it looks and seems like Miller has taken the next step in his game. Sporting KC came out of the gates hot, testing Miller early and often. Last season’s Miller likely lets in one more goal and there was no way LAFC was going to score more than 2 goals on KC. Miller did a really good job and dictating the defense and getting low quickly when the ball came blazing in. It might be because he has a lot of pressure on him with two viable backup keepers this season, but he showed on Sunday that he is deserving of the starting goalie spot.
Latif Blessing. While this decision may seem weird, I think Blessing changed the game dramatically. Coming on for Nguyen, he ended up playing in the midfield for a bit, a position I haven’t seem him play. He did a great job in tracking down the ball when Sporting was just trying to create passes back and forth. He got the fans into the game as well, as everyone was cheering on his hard work. Since he was moving quickly and finding space, Sporting had to place a man on him, allowing for space on the near side of the pitch were Diomande was. Blessing is always going to have a hard time getting into the starting line up each week with Rossi and Vela, but he will always work hard as a super sub to make sure LAFC get the goals needed to win games.
Sunday’s fixture was enjoyable, especially with the Black and Gold getting the win. While there are plenty of small things to worry about, this team knows exactly what is expected of them. You knew how much this game meant to Sporting too because when Diomande’s shot hit the back of the net, half of the team went down to their knees in sadness. The hard schedule doesn’t stop here though as LAFC host the Western Conference champions, the Portland Timbers. As long as the team continues to work together and get better each week, it will be hard to see any team beating them.