LAFC Defeat Defending Champions Atlanta United In Roller Coaster Match
At the end of the day, 15 minutes was enough.
In their short existence, it is very rare to see LAFC drop consecutive matches and last night’s 4-3 victory over the MLS defending champions Atlanta United was another example of the “big picture “mentality. Coming off a loss to crosstown rivals LA Galaxy, there was a question as to how the team would respond after a frustrating defeat that hurts your pride more than anything. The match vs Atlanta was about the football, not the controversial interviews or off-the-field shenanigans that the Galaxy game included. The Black & Gold along with The Five Stripes did not disappoint. Although head coaches Bob Bradley and Frank de Boer differed in tactical approaches, pushing their team forward to play good and attractive football was something they shared in ideas. It was a roller coaster of a game where both teams had their moments but by the final whistle, LAFC had put the ball in the back of net more times.
Unlike earlier in the season, there have been doubts regarding the starting lineup as of late and Bradley surprised us yet again with the inclusion of Pablo Sisniega over a healthy Tyler Miller. When asked about his decision in the post-game press conference, Bob responded, ““Tyler was away for 6 weeks without playing a game and in that time period, Pablo has stepped up. It’s hard for someone to come back from that but Tyler is working very hard in training.” The game did not start out well for the 24-year old Sisniega as his indecisiveness to come out of his line along with poor set piece defending allowed Atlanta to take the lead after one minute of play through midfielder Mo Adams after a rebound in the box following a free kick. You would think this was a wake-up call but it took LAFC almost 30 minutes to really settle into the game and execute their football. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the Black & Gold didn’t just wake up, they jumped out of bed.
Leading up to the half-hour mark of the game, LAFC was not creating many scoring chances but was successfully counter pressing and recovering the ball, which led to several set pieces that LAFC struggled to capitalize on throughout the match. The first sign of life came in the 25th minute when Eduard Atuesta received the ball in center of the pitch and made a quick turn that threw off the entire Atlanta United defense. This movement would trigger Carlos Vela to make a diagonal run towards goal and was able to get off a good shot but it was deflected for a corner kick. It was the first time in the game where the chemistry and understanding between LAFC players was displayed.
Diego Rossi would almost benefit from the Atuesta-Vela connection as his curling shot in the 28th minute was brilliantly saved by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had himself a very good game with at least three world-class saves even after allowing four goals. The next 15 minutes were a dream for LAFC but a complete nightmare for Atlanta United.
Let me just say that Mark-Anthony Kaye did not have his best game as an LAFC player. The Canadian international lost the ball in the midfield that led to the opening goal and overall, his passing was not a sharp as in other games. However, Kaye along with Vela had major contributions in LAFC’s four goals. In the first goal, Vela started possession in his own half and played it wide to Kaye, who then connected a wall pass with Latif Blessing. The ball returned to Kaye’s feet and beautifully assisted Adama Diomande for the tying goal in the 33rd minute. That was just the beginning. In the second goal, Kaye started possession in his own half and connect another wall pass but this this time it was with Rossi, who then played the ball wide right to Vela. Without giving up on the play, Rossi sprinted to the box after Vela’s cross was cleared and the rebound fell to the Uruguayan, who finished past Guzan for the second goal. Just a few minutes later, Vela was fouled just inside the box for a penalty kick and as a result, the captain scored his league-leading 22nd goal of the season. The fourth goal was my favorite of them all because it exemplified the team’s hunger to want more and not be satisfied with a 2-goal lead. It started with Atuesta and finished with the Colombian. Atuesta won a duel in the midfield with a sliding tackle and instead of of stepping on the brakes; Atuesta quickly got up and made a 70-yard sprint into the box to follow the counter attack. Kaye lobbed a great ball to Vela, who then played a through ball to an incoming run of Diomande. After receiving the ball, Dio crossed the ball into the box and who else but Atuesta to get on the end of it and finish it for the 4-1 rout at that moment.
With just one minute remaining in the half, Atlanta United reduced LAFC’s lead by one through their leading goal scorer and last year’s league-MVP Josef Martinez. It was another defensive mental breakdown as the Black & Gold were caught out of position off a throw-in to the disapproval of Bob Bradley. Things did not get any better for Bradley’s men in the beginning of the second half.
The second 45 minutes started like the first, with LAFC struggling to control possession and with Atlanta United making a change in their lineup that immediately paid dividends. Goal scorer Mo Adams was replaced by Justin Meram, who came in as a left-wing back with attacking as his priority. After a few attacks down the left side, Meram beat Steven Beitashour down the line and crossed the ball into the box but it was deflected by Eddie Segura into the goal. The Colombian defender now has two own goals on the season but has yet to score for LAFC. Like in the first half, the Black & Gold struggled to regain control of the game until Bradley made a substitution in the 60th minute when he brought on Lee Nguyen for Steven Beitashour. The change required positional modifications as Blessing dropped back to the right-back position with Nguyen coming on as an attacking midfielder. Nguyen’s ability to hold the ball, dribble and pass when needed, tremendously helped the team regain control of the remainder of the match.
Both clubs had their chances towards the end of the match with Atlanta getting very close off counter attacks and LAFC through collective buildup plays. Brad Guzan, with two world-class saves, and Jordan Harvey with a last-second sliding tackle, were both the reason why the score remained 4-3.
With the result, LAFC remain undefeated at home in league play with a record of 9-0-1 and stay in 1st place of the Western Conference along with still being the front runners for the Supporter Shield. With a ridiculous goal differential of +36, this was the 8th time this season that LAFC have scored four or more goals in a single match. We all know that the Black & Gold are capable of getting back up after a loss but can they maintain themselves a winning side for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs?