Escaping with a point
In any soccer league around the world, there are derbies that create a perfect advertisement as to why soccer is one of the best games in the world. Scotland has the Old Firm. Germany has Der Klassiker. Spain has El Clasico. And the United States has El Trafico.
In what was the fifth game of this new derby, LAFC still have not found a way to beat their rivals to the south. After what could be described as a terrible start, LAFC found a way to get back into the game and end up splitting the points with the LA Galaxy to go 19 points up in the Western Conference and 14 points up in the Supporters Shield.
Let’s breakdown the newest El Trafico with a new 3252 breakdown.
3 things that went well for LAFC
LAFC calmed down after giving up two goals in less than a minute
After LAFC inexplicable gave up two goals in a minute, the Black & Gold of LA found a way to calm down the game as much as possible. Even though the game was still fairly frantic, LAFC was making timely tackles and holding the ball in the middle of the field. Even though their attacking style, especially in the first half did not work, LAFC was still controlling the main tempo of the game. They kept on moving the ball forward, trying to find a way to get a goal that would allow them to maybe get a result. It obviously worked as they got two goals in almost 40 minutes to split the spoils.
LAFC never gave up
Twice LAFC went down in this game. And twice they came back in order to get a result. If we all remember from last season, LAFC had a lot of trouble trying to see out games. They gave up a lot of late leads or draws that ended up costing them either the number one or two seed in the playoffs last season.
This year has been different. There have been a lot of moments when LAFC has been down and ended up finding a way to get back into the game. Tonight was no different.
LAFC kept fighting their way to the tie and just hoping to find a way to get the win towards the end of the game. They had intensity and passion trying to find that winner that would have likely brought down the Banc of California Stadium. Regardless though, LAFC could have rolled over after going two goals down. But they didn’t and they tried as hard a possible to get those coveted three points.
Bob Bradley made a tough, but a smart decision about Carlos Vela
Derby games are when you learn a lot not only about the players on the pitch, but also about the coaches on the bench. In these big games, the coaches need to be the figures that have a clear mind in making a decision that could affect the game. Bradley did that tonight when he pulled Vela from the game in the 60th minute. Unfortunately for LAFC, Vela ended up tweaking his right hamstring in the attack after his goal and needed to come out.
This is were Bradley was smarter than a majority of coaches in MLS. A lot of coaches would have kept Vela in, trying to find that winning goal. Vela was finally finding a lot of space and had been one of the best players, from either side, playing in the game. Bradley sees the big picture and knows that if Vela ended up hurting himself more, he could potentially be out for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Losing Vela for 30 minutes is still not great, but in the big picture, it was the right call.
2 things that need to be improved on
Finding someone to cover Zlatan Ibrahimovic
I’ve been watching soccer for almost my entire life. I’ve watched thousands of games, both in the United States and across the world. And yet, with all of those games, I have never seen an opposing player own a team like Ibrahimovic owns LAFC.
Walker Zimmerman, who arguably might win Defender of the Year for MLS, had a shocker of a game tonight trying to mark Ibrahimovic. Zimmerman got away from him too many times and those led to Ibrahimovic getting his brace within 15 minutes of the opening whistle.
The coaching staff started to realize this towards the end of the first half and ended up having Eddie Segura mark him, which was a vast improvement. Ibrahimovic only had around 10 touches in the second half, which is part of the reason why the Galaxy stayed stuck on the three goals for the rest of the night. Moving forward though, LAFC needs to have an honest conversation within themselves on who is best at covering the Swede.
Needing to find ways to change the way they attack
LAFC drew this game because they refused to change their way of attacking. Maybe there was something in the film leading up to the game that showed the Galaxy giving away the middle of the field. Or maybe it was from the game last month in Carson. Or maybe LAFC was trying to show a different way of attacking.
But the way LAFC attacked today could be summed up in one word. Horrendous. Even with three goals to their name, LAFC really did not create a lot of clear-cut chances to push the Galaxy backline.
The midfield trio of Latif Blessing, Eduard Atuesta, and Mark-Anthony Kaye had a lot of trouble of getting passes around the midfield and a lot of it had to do with how close they were playing together. There were a lot of misdirected passes and players that were too close together, which let the Galaxy jam up the midfield. LAFC thrives on pushing the ball around the pitch, especially from side to side. But when the Black & Gold only focus on moving the ball into one area of the pitch, the other team always figures it out and throws as many bodies as possible into that area. It happened a lot last season, which led us to lose in the first round of the playoffs again Real Salt Lake. The Galaxy just took a page from that heartbreaking loss and recopied it in order to get a result from this derby.
5 key moments of the match
Zlatan gets the Galaxy on the board
The game started out frantic, which was to be expected. But in typical El Trafico fashion, this game started with an early goal. In what would be described as not the greatest of starts, the Galaxy was able to slice open LAFC in the first three minutes to get their first of the night. After a lot of misplaced passes in the middle of the field, the Galaxy were able to get possession of the ball and ended up slicing the LAFC midfield and backline with surgical precision. Ibrahimovic did what he does best and scored right in front of the goal.
Blessing gets LAFC level
LAFC to their credit came back right away after the Galaxy had scored. The Black & Gold did not waver in what they were trying to do and kept on going up the middle of the pitch. Finally, LAFC got a break off a Galaxy defender and the ball landed right at the feet of Blessing. He calmly got the shot off and pulled LAFC back. It was fully deserved for how hard LAFC was pushing, but that amount of pushing would end up hurting them in the end.
The Galaxy get two goals in less than a minute
Just when it felt like LAFC was starting to find a way forward and taking control of the game, everything broke loose. In a span of just over a minute, the LAFC defense decided to shut down. The first of the two goals came from a long ball that went over the top of LAFC. The Galaxy knew that LAFC liked to play a high press, so they started to float balls over the top in order to try and catch them off-guard. It ended up working.
Ibrahimovic got his second goal of the game, only 15 minutes into the game and then LA Galaxy’s new Designated Player, Cristian Pavon, got his first goal in MLS only a minute later. LAFC practically looked like they switched off for that two-minute span and it would take them almost 40 game times minutes to get back to even terms.
Captain Vela brings LAFC back
Vela is the heartbeat of this team. He drives the team forward with his skill on the field but also drives them forward in the leadership that he brings on the field. You could see Vela pointing at players telling them how to create space on the field in order for them to attack more towards goal. In all paid off once Vela was able to get his goal in the 53rd minute of the game.
Vela found space on his favorite right side of the field and passed the ball back to Kaye who was shaded on the right middle of the pitch. Kaye kept his head up and saw Vela ask for the ball back. And like clockwork, Vela got the ball, took a touch, and then hit the perfect shot into the bottom left corner of the net. Somehow LAFC had found its way back and could easily find a winner in 30-plus minutes.
Vela goes out, Rodriguez comes on
In what looked like nothing, Vela all of the sudden started grabbing the back of his hamstring, only a few minutes after he had scored the equalizer. He went to the bench to get something sprayed on his right knee and hamstring and then went back into the game. A few moments later though, Bradley had made the decision to pull Vela from the game.
And Vela was not happy. At all.
When he saw his number on the substitution board, he started cussing towards Bradley, obviously thinking that he could go the rest of the game. In his fit of rage, he even threw down his captain's armband in disgust while still chirping at Bradley. Vela eventually calmed down and started playing coach on the sidelines, but he wanted to be out there on the field with the rest of his men from Los Angeles.
But with Vela going out, the fans of LAFC got the opportunity to see one of the newest Designated Players, Brian Rodriguez. And man, does this dude have potential. Rodriguez was quick on the front line, creating space behind the backline and making the Galaxy scramble in order to find ways to limit his opportunities. Rodriguez was only the field for 30 minutes, but he had some really decent chances on goal and had some crosses that missed the boot of an LAFC player. For only being on the team for a week, Rodriguez has the potential to get LAFC up another level.
2 key players of the game
Blessing came into this game mad. “I saw the billboard, I was mad. So for this game, I wanted to go all out,” said Blessing during his postgame press conference. The billboards that Blessing is referring to are the ones that the Galaxy bought around the Banc of California Stadium that showed Blessing falling towards the ground during the first derby of the season last month.
And luckily for LAFC, Blessing did go all out. In what I would describe as his best game of the year, Blessing made his presence known all over the pitch. Yes, of course, he had the two goals that allowed the Black & Gold to get back into the game, but he also had a lot of great decisions in the midfield. He also refused to be pushed around by Ibrahimovic this time around and made some great toe pokes to get the ball back for LAFC. During the game, he only made one major mistake, which allowed for the first goal of the game, but after that, he locked it down. Without Blessing hard work during the game, it would be hard to figure out if the Black & Gold steal a point on the road.
Eddie Segura’s name was not called a lot during the broadcast on FS1. And that was a good thing. When defenders are doing their job and locking down an opponent, they end up going unmentioned, as if they are a ghost on the field. Segura was no ghost though and did a really good job at being the wall that LAFC needed in order to get a result.
When Segura needed to mark Ibrahimovic towards the end of the first half and all the second half, Ibrahimovic was never heard from again. He did a really good job of reading the wings of the Galaxy and making timely moves in order to cut out a lane or head the ball away. Segura is one of the main reasons that LAFC is so far head in both goal differential and overall points on the table.
Overall, it was just another game in the long 34 game season that is MLS. LAFC will go on to try and break all the records when it comes to the regular season, but the idea of maybe having to play the Galaxy in a playoff game will always be hanging over their heads. It’s crazy to think that LAFC has been able to make a joke of a lot of teams in MLS this season, but yet, the Galaxy own the space their heads.
This team will look to regroup and play another tough test at home next weekend against Minnesota United. It might be with or without Vela, so LAFC will need to play against adversity if they are going to break the all-time MLS record of points in a season.