LAFC vs New York Red Bulls: Preview
Now that the MLS transfer window is finally closed, let’s get back to football.
After an impressive and convincing victory on the road last weekend in New England, LAFC return to Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night to host the New York Red Bulls in what is only the second meeting ever between these two clubs and the first in Los Angeles. The Black & Gold have won five out of their last six games as they look to remain undefeated at home in league play this season. Not only have LAFC yet to lose a match at the Banc in 2019, they are the only team in MLS who has not been defeated at home. In addition, the Black & Gold have an astonishing +20 goal differential in LA and average three goals per game at the Banc.
The Red Bulls are another one of those teams that need to be checked off the “revenge list”, meaning they are a side that defeated LAFC last year. Sporting KC, Portland, Atlanta and Dallas have all been “crossed off” the list but the Red Bulls, Carson and Minnesota are all still pending. New York enters this game with some inconsistency regarding results, as their last 10 matches show the following trend: W-L-W-L-D-W-L-W-L-W. If this tendency continues, the Red Bulls are due for a loss. In a match where LAFC will surely maintain the majority of ball possession, it will come down to whether the Black & Gold can use it wisely by mixing up the offensive approach and prevent New York from compressing the field.
For the majority of the season, Bob Bradley has established a possession-based football style at LAFC with tremendous success. The utilization of spaces, moving their opponents out of position and overloading areas are some of the strategies the Black & Gold tend to use when the ball is under their control. For Sunday’s match, New York Red Bulls head coach (and Bob Bradley’s student) Chris Armas expects LAFC’s usual approach to possess the ball plenty and will attempt to make things difficult for them by being intelligent. It will take New York’s very best effort to get any kind of positive result at the Banc.
The Black & Gold have very creative players in the midfield with Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing. You can even add Carlos Vela to the list as the team captain occasionally drops to the middle to pick up the ball and orchestrate the attack. In order to avoid Vela and his “three amigos” from playing through the middle, the Red Bulls will try and compress that section of the field by having their center backs and midfielders step up. Although an aggressive tactic, if NYRB can be sharp on the tackles by staying close to their adversary and win second balls, they might just be able to frustrate LAFC and deviate them from their more effective style of play.
One of the best things about LAFC is that they are not a one trick pony. Just as how they can hurt you with the ball, they can sometimes cause even more damage without it. The counter press has produced great results for the Black & Gold as they have mastered it by smothering teams with it. For this match, LAFC will look to win the ball high up the field to quickly start their attack towards the goal of 35 year-old veteran goalkeeper Luis Robles, who has a reputation of being an excellent shot-stopper.
New York will have their hands full in defense as they will be tasked with containing the attacking trio of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande, who have combined for 42 goals in the season, more than the entire Red Bulls team (41). Seemingly frustrated after failing to convert any of his scoring chances last week in New England, Vela will look to take his anger out on NYRB and continue to build on his MVP-esque season of 22 goals and 13 assists. However, Vela will be challenged on the right wing by arguably the best left-back in the league in Jamaican international Kemar Lawrence. The Red Bulls also have two strikers of their own in Daniel Royer and Brian White, who have scored 8 goals each in the 2019 season. The legend of Bradley Wright-Phillips remains on the roster but has been used as a late sub recently due to injury and White’s excellent form.
With the exception of Tristan Blackmon stepping in for the suspended Walker Zimmerman, I don’t expect much rotation in the starting lineup for LAFC. With eyes on the Supporter Shield and securing a playoff spot as soon as possible, a victory over the Red Bulls will not only be an important step in the right direction but it will mean remaining in 1st place of the Western Conference and undefeated at home. However, the Red Bulls will be motivated to play the top team in the league in what promises to be an intriguing match that might be decided with the smallest of details.