A professional performance to move into the 5th round
The regular season has gone really well for LAFC. 37 points from 16 games and an unbelievable goal differential. But the regular season doesn’t matter in the US Open Cup. This competition is a single elimination tournament that always has many twists and turns. Luckily for LAFC, they played like it was a regular season match and beat Real Salt Lake 3-0 to move onto the 5th round of the US Open Cup. Let’s break down the game.
3 things that went well for LAFC:
Never allowed Real Salt Lake chances in front of goal
LAFC was playing someone new between the posts for the first time in the 2019 season. Pablo Sisniega was able to make his first start for the Black & Gold since Tyler Miller is off with the US Men’s National Team for the Gold Cup. I was really intrigued to see how Sisniega was going to play since it was his first start in a pressure situation. In the end though, LAFC did a really good job at not allowing Sisniega to face too many shots. While he had to save a few crosses and shots, Sisniega wasn’t pressured too much.
Finding space on both sides of the wings
One thing that has been apparent if you’ve watched LAFC this season is how they like to favor the right side of the field. Carlos Vela, of course, is on that side a majority of the time and the offense of LAFC goes through his golden left foot. In this game though, LA was finding a lot of space on the left and Diego Rossi was finding a lot of room to burn Salt Lake on that side. Since LA was creating a more balanced attack, Vela was getting a lot more space to do his thing on left and there was a lot of space in the middle for crosses.
LAFC kept control of their emotions
What’s starting to turn into a theme for LAFC opponents is how they are slowing down LA. When the opposition is down, they are starting to find any way to slow LAFC down any way possible. The most common way they do that is by fouling them. Hard. In the second half alone, there were about two to three hard yellow cards against Real Salt Lake. Even after Latif Blessing was scissor tackled early in the second half and LAFC didn’t lose there cool. There was a little jawing back and forth, something that could be expected on any field, but LAFC never received a yellow for backlash. Bob Bradley has coached this team well to maintain their composure in a hostile environment.
2 things that need to be worked on:
Sloppy passing during the game
One of the key aspects of LAFC’s game is the crisp passing. They do a great job at passing the ball through the lines and along the touchline to move the ball forwards. Tonight though, they were a little bit sloppy. There seemed to be a lot of attacking balls that were hit too long or hard towards the sprinting forward. When the defense was trying to get the ball out of the back, they were passing the ball out of bounds more often than usual. While this might be a nick-picking aspect of the game, LAFC will need to be sharper as they move further in the tournament.
Staying focused for all 90 minutes
Again, this might be really nitpicky. For as dominant as LAFC has been this season, they sometimes find themselves in situations were they look like they are going through the motions and not executing. This happened tonight during the first 15 minutes of the second half when Salt Lake started to find themselves pressing towards getting the equalizing goal. If LAFC can focus for all 90 minutes, they are easily going to be able to dominate the US Open Cup and the rest of the regular season.
5 key moments of the match:
LAFC’s first goal
LAFC and RSL were pretty evenly matched in the first eight minutes of the match. Salt Lake was pressing LAFC in the midfield, causing some turnovers and dangerous balls in front of LAFC’s goal. LAFC never panicked and kept on trying to find through balls towards Vela and Rossi. Finally, Eduard Atuesta found Vela running beyond his man on the right-hand side. With a perfect pass, Vela took one more touch on the ball and placed it perfectly into the bottom left corner of the net.
Ramirez’s miss that hit off the post
It was obvious during the game that Atuesta was feeling it in his over the top passing, which was surprising because LAFC hasn’t used the over the top pass a lot during the season. They usually pass the ball around trying to find any inch of space to get the ball forward. Atuesta though was chipping amazing balls over everyone though and found Christian Ramirez at the front. Ramirez was only able to take one touch and almost found a way to chip the keeper and score a goal. Unfortunately, it ended up hitting the outside of the post to go out for a goal kick.
Sisniega incredible save at the 60th minute
LAFC came off the gas a little bit, which allowed for RSL to get back into the game. All Salt Lake needed was a goal to put LAFC on the ropes on moving on to the next round. RSL started to get more possession of the ball and started to make great crosses into the box. They finally found an amazing one that landed at the feet of Tate Schmitt who tried to put the ball into the left lower corner. Sisniega though made a great reactionary save that allowed LAFC to maintain their razor-thin margin.
LAFC’s second goal
Less than five minutes after Sisniega made a heroic save to keep LAFC up by a goal, the team finally found a way to get a little bit more breathing room. The Black & Gold finally noticed that RSL was trying hard to get back into the game, so they decided to use their best defense, possessing the ball and controlling the tempo. Blessing, who was everywhere on the pitch tonight, had the ball 10 yards off the halfway line and looked like he was trying to pass towards Ramirez. Ramirez though, ended up playing what was likely one of the best dummy moves of the year. He took his defender with him which left Lee Nguyen running towards goal with literally no one around him. He calmly collected the perfect pass, set himself up, and found the back of the net. Finally, LAFC was able to breathe.
Fito Zelaya makes his LAFC debut
Finally, many months after LAFC signed Zelaya, he made his first appearance for LAFC. While he was only on the field for 10 minutes, he made an impact being on the field. LAFC has always struggled with set pieces this season, especially direct free kicks. In their countless number of goals LA has scored this season, you could count the direct free kick goals on one hand. In the dying embers of the game though, LAFC had a free kick from about 30 yards out. Last season, you could expect Laurent Ciman to take the free kick and try to knuckle the ball towards goal. Maybe now LAFC has someone because Zelaya almost did exactly that. While it was hard to see how Zelaya hit the ball, it still was able to get through the defensive wall and hit the post. Luckily, it bounced straight back, and Adama Diomande was able to put the ball back to it’s home.
2 key players of the game:
The second best story of the season, behind LAFC’s great form in the first half of the season, is how great Atuesta has been this season. His vision, leadership, and defense have just been incredible. In this game though, Atuesta was doing everything. His passing was was perfect, both on the ground and over the top, he stopped shots and passes through the middle by timing everything right, and his leadership was evident as LA started to face some tough fouls. There’s a reason he is practically named to the team of the week for MLS every week.
LAFC’s new keeper, and only third keeper to make an appearance for the Black & Gold, had a really good debut. Not only did he make that great save in the 60th minute, but he also made a couple of great plays as RSL tried to put the ball into the box. On more than one occasion, he had to punch the ball into the air from a good corner kick and other times he had to collect a pass trying to find a man on the opposite post. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the backup keeper for LAFC, but I am now filled with a little bit of confidence that LA is going to be alright as Miller is gone with the US national team.
Overall, it was a professional win for LAFC. The team looked refreshed to be on the pitch and showed their desire to make it past the semifinals this season. The draw for the Round of 16 will take place on Thursday, so everyone will all find out who we will play from the western side of the United States.