LAFC Salvage A Point In Orlando
Clinching the top spot in the West will have to wait at least one more week.
While the rest of the football world takes a break from league play due to international competition, MLS forces their teams to play with depleted sides in a crucial part of the season where teams are fighting to stay in playoff contention and prevent elimination. Tonight, LAFC was a clear victim of the leagues’ inability to properly schedule games outside of the FIFA international window as the Black & Gold struggled to play their football against Orlando City and were obliged to settle for a 2-2 draw. Although a point on the road is not all that bad, one can’t help but wonder how different things might have played out with a full squad available at Bob Bradley’s disposition.
The seven absences in LAFC’s roster due to international duty were not an excuse to maintain the same style of football ideas that Bradley expects his team to display each game. If you add the Carlos Vela’s hamstring injury to the list, that is a total of eight modifications from one week to another. Despite the several changes in the starting XI, it provided opportunities for players that don’t see regular minutes on the pitch. One of those players was forward Adrien Perez, who earned his first MLS start of his career.
Historically speaking, LAFC tend to respond well after a defeat. With the loss at home last week vs Minnesota, it was time to refocus against Orlando and continue to do what has gotten them the recognition of being the best team in MLS.
During the first ten minutes of the match, Orlando relied on counter attacks and fast-transition plays in attempt to cause danger to Tyler Miller’s goal. In what was a surprise for me, Bradley opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation where Blessing and Nguyen settled in the midfield, Adrien and Josh Perez on the wings with Rossi floating just behind Adama Diomande. The unfamiliarity of the system along with the chemistry between players, the Black & Gold resorted to playing direct long balls to the attackers to start the match. In the 11th minute, the opening goal arrived.
After failing to get a shot on goal off a set piece last weekend vs Minnesota, LAFC did their homework and converted on the first corner kick of the match. A pass inside the box from Nguyen found Adrien Perez and the Ontario native slotted the ball past Brian Rowe for his first career MLS goal. It was the early goal that usually brings opponents out of their shell but nobody expected what happened next to actually take place.
Just seconds after kick-off, LAFC were caught flat-footed and allowed midfielder Christian Higuita a significant amount of space to pick out the run of Orlando’s winger Nani, who calmly finished over Miller for the equalizer. Agreed that the initial pass was deflected by Blessing trying to intercept the ball but that does not excuse the poor positioning and slow reaction from the LAFC players. Just a few minutes later, Orlando City would take the lead through forward Benji Michel after an excellent buildup play from the home team. It was as if Orlando had stolen a page from LAFC’s book and executed that attractive, possession-based football that the Black & Gold love to play. It must be said that Jordan Harvey seemed sluggish in the play as his inability to react quickly allowed for the initial pass to be played behind him before the cross found Michel, who beat the other fullback in Steven Beitashour in speed. Both outside-backs were exposed in this play in a situation where their experience and positional awareness should have been more of a deciding factor in preventing the play to fruition.
The Black & Gold didn’t’ seem to feel comfortable on the pitch until about the half-hour mark where more passes were being connected, more chemistry was being built and players started to patiently create dangerous plays in attack. Unfortunately, shots from Rossi and Adrien Perez were not enough to beat Brian Rowe as LAFC went into the half with an adverse score line.
For the second half, the Black & Gold continued to keep the majority of possession but with nothing to show for. Bob Bradley made a couple substitutions where both Adrien and Josh Perez were substituted for defenders Mohammed El-Munir and Danilo Silva respectively. The changes allowed for Eddie Segura to push up to the midfield alongside Nguyen as Blessing moved up with El-Munir to accompany Rossi in attack. The modifications energized the team and awarded LAFC with the equalizer in the 78th minute.
In a game where Diego Rossi played out of his normal position and appeared uncomfortable at times doing so, he drifted out wide for old time’s sake and showed just how versatile he can be. The Uruguayan DP connected with Diomande and finished past Rowe for his 15th goal of the season. The understanding between the two attackers was one that was missing all game and fortunately was enough to take away a point from Orlando.
It was not the prettiest of performances from LAFC but given the circumstances, a draw in these conditions is not bad. After all, the big picture is still the most important and surely within reach. The top spot in the West and the Supporter’s Shield seem inevitable for the Black & Gold to obtain and with all the international players returning next week along with injuries healing, LAFC will look back at this trip in Orlando as a very small step towards success.