D.C. United vs LAFC: Preview
By: Benjamin Virgen (4/5/2019)
From playing the worst team in the league, to playing one of the best.
LAFC travel to the nation’s capital this weekend for a Saturday matinee showdown vs the top team of the Eastern Conference in D.C. United. The game is set to be played at Audi Field with kickoff scheduled for 12pm. Both teams are coming off victories on the road but with different levels of difficulty. The Black & Gold easily took care of the San Jose Earthquakes with a 5-0 win while the Black & Red struggled late in the match to hold on to a 2-1 win in Orlando. With D.C. United yet to concede a goal at home and LAFC scoring at least twice in every game so far, we have ourselves a treat where both teams will bring the best out of each other.
Attack Is The First Line Of Defense
Everyone is talking about how D.C. United have three shutouts in four games and have only conceded one goal so far this season. As a result, one would assume that D.C. have the best defenders and backline in the league that prevent any attack from getting through. I don’t buy into that at all. There are two reasons why it has been so tough to score on these guys: the high-pressure from their attackers in the opposition’s half and goalkeeper Bill Hamid. With exception of the lob sided game vs RSL, the Black & Red have been out-shot and out-possessed by their adversaries in each game. NYCFC and Orlando City have had the best chance of beating them if it weren’t for outstanding performances from Hamid after making extraordinary saves to bail out his defense. The fact that Hamid has been so busy to start the season is an indicative the defense is not as strong as they appear to be. It also doesn’t help that D.C. just lost their starting left-back, Joseph Mora, to injury for at least a month and will have to resort to veteran Chris McCann in that position. With the switch, D.C. United gain experience and solidify their defense but lose in speed and will certainly miss Mora getting up in attack down the left flank. Another factor that has played a huge role in the clean sheets DCU has been able to pull off is their attackers and midfielders pressing high with intensity and causing turnovers in dangerous areas. In some of these early games, D.C. have recovered the ball in the opposition’s half so quickly that it doesn’t even give teams a chance to get to the other side as they are forced to defend off the turnover, sometimes ending in a goal. The Black-and-Red have done a great job at making their attackers the first line of defense and by doing so, it will force LAFC into making quick decisions in getting rid of the ball in their own half to prevent these turnovers from happening.
Apart from having dangerous players like Wayne Rooney, Lucas Rodriguez and Paul Arriola, D.C. United can really hurt you with set pieces. With the exception of the scoreless draw vs NYCFC, DCU have capitalized on at least one set piece in each game and it all starts with Rooney. Whether it has been his precise corner kicks or his clinical free kicks, the former Manchester United player has found a way to put the ball into the back of the net. It will be very crucial for LAFC to defend corner kicks with the greatest of focus and concentration as well as to not commit any fouls around the box that will give Rooney a chance to display his free kick accuracy.
Keeping The Candle Lit
If you were to ask why LAFC are at the top of the league right now, the most common answer will most likely include Carlos Vela. The Mexican forward is off to an incredible start with 6 goals and 3 assists in the first five games of the season and shows no signs of slowing down. The captain has declared a few times that he wants to win MVP of the league along with MLS Cup and if he continues his current form, I don’t see anyone stopping him or the Black & Gold from achieving those milestones. However, LAFC are more than just one player and it will certainly take a team effort to bring back home a positive result from Washington D.C.
Last week in San Jose, Tyler Miller got his first clean sheet of the season and will look to get his second one on Saturday with the help of Zimmerman and Co. However, this will not be an easy task. Just like I mentioned earlier, the backline for LAFC will need to be very careful with the high press of DCU’s attack as they are known for causing turnovers in dangerous areas. We know that LAFC is a team that likes to play out of the back but in this particular match, they might be forced to play the long ball in some occasions to prevent any potential danger. The South American battle in the midfield between Venezuelan Junior Moreno and Colombian Eduard Atuesta, two of the best defensive midfielders in the league, will be one to keep an eye on as both can get forward with ease and have excellent technique. With D.C. United missing Mora at left-back, Vela will most likely be paired up with the slower McCann in a favorable matchup for the Mexican. Not only will McCann have to deal with Vela’s dribbling and movement, but also with the speed of Diego Rossi when the attackers switch sides. It’s going to be a long day for the Irishman.
One thing I have noticed from watching D.C. United play this season is their inability to close down on shots from outside the box. Do they really trust Bill Hamid that much? With the passing style LAFC have enjoyed playing up until this point, sometimes they have been known to make one pass too many. If there was ever a game this season where the long shot from distance might play a defining factor, it’s this one. The Black & Gold are not big on taking shots from outside the box but they already have two this year: Zimmerman game-winner vs RSL and Vela’s golazo last week in San Jose. With a mixture of DCU’s difficulties in closing in, LAFC’s determination to take shots and a little fortune, the chances of a positive result increase.
Bob Bradley: “We’re very excited about the game this week. You’ve got teams with good ideas that aren’t afraid to step up, go after teams, press and have confidence that they can still put together good plays by playing quickly and utilizing the skills of their best players”.
Mark-Anthony Kaye: “It’s going to be a good experience. It’s going to be exciting and everyone is up for the challenge. You always want to test yourself against another team that is doing well, just so you can say that this is where we stand at this point.”
Ben Olson (D.C. United head coach): “They are in very good form, they are well coached and they have an MVP-caliber player. They pose a bunch of different threats and defensively they have been pretty sound as well so we will have our hands full but hopefully so will they”.
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