Can LAFC get back to it's winning ways?
In any sport, there will always be ups and downs throughout the season. Sometimes fans are going to feel invincible for a few weeks, and other times, it feels like the walls are caving in on the team. In soccer, this is especially true.
LAFC has been on one of the most insane roller coaster rides I’ve experienced as both a writer and as a fan in the last three weeks alone. Great away wins against Sporting Kansas City and Houston made it feel like this team was special. But losses against Portland in the quarterfinal of the US Open Cup and against the Galaxy last week, showed worrying trends about this squad. In soccer, and all professional sports, the great teams find a way to suppress the knowledge of the last game and focus on the next task at hand.
For LAFC, that means they need to forget about Zlatan and focus on Josef.
Atlanta United, the defending champions of MLS, are making their first appearance at the Banc of California Stadium. There’s a lot of pundits out there that think this could likely be a preview of the MLS Cup Final. While there is a lot of the season left to be played out, LAFC and Atlanta are some of the strongest teams in both the Western and Eastern Conferences.
This season, LAFC has done a fantastic job at winning the next game after a loss. After losing to Vancouver, Colorado, and Portland, LAFC won the next games by a cumulative score of 12-3. Playing Atlanta United, in general, would be one of the toughest tests of the season, but after losing to the LA Galaxy, it will be even more interesting to see how LAFC shape up.
For the holders of the MLS Cup, Atlanta has had an interesting season. They started off really slow as the team was getting used to the new system that Frank de Boer put into the place. They didn’t win their first game until April and looked like a team that wasn’t going to sniff the playoffs. The five-strips have now how their groove and have skyrocketed into 2nd on the Eastern Conference standings, only three points behind the Philadelphia Union.
Atlanta is like LAFC in the fact that they have a lot of high-power offense that overwhelms teams. With reigning golden Boot winner, Josef Martinez, and new signee, Pity Martinez, the LAFC backline are going to have their hands full.
While Pity Martinez start in MLS has been a slow one, only two goals in 18 league appearances, his movement in the midfield allows for Joseph Martinez to move around and find space up top. Atlanta, like LAFC, tries to shoot the ball during any open opportunity. They have over 14 shots per game, which ranks in the top-10 in MLS.
One aspect that LAFC will be looking to pounce on will be on the counter-attack and set pieces. Atlanta tries to hold onto the ball as much as possible, even on the road. LAFC is going to have to find a way to get the ball of the feet of Atlanta and move the ball forward quickly. Atlanta also likes to foul a lot, almost 10 fouls per game. LAFC will need to find a way to make sure that those fouls are being punished.
It should be a really interesting game at the Banc of California Stadium under the lights on Friday. LAFC will need to find a way to calm the nerves of playing two big games back-to-back and find a result to put the season back on course.