LAFC vs Philadelphia Union: Preview

Just a couple of days ago, another two of LAFC’s missions were completed: clinching the top spot in the Western Conference and qualifying for the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League. In addition to already having a spot secured in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Black & Gold are aware that missions are only part of the journey. Based on Bob Bradley’s philosophy of always wanting more and never being satisfied, LAFC have an opportunity to take another step towards achieving another milestone this weekend in Chester, Pennsylvania.

With a victory over a confidence-boosted Philadelphia Union side combined with losses from Atlanta and NYCFC, the Black & Gold would win the Supporter’s Shield on Saturday evening with four games to spare in the regular season. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and focus on the game at hand before celebrating prematurely.

Back To Winning Ways

There is no better feeling in football than being on the winning team after the referee blows the final whistle. Unfortunately, LAFC have been on the wrong end (or caught in the middle of it) as of late as the Black & Gold currently are winless in the last three matches. Whether it’s been injuries, parked buses or international absentees, LAFC have not had what it takes to come out victorious. With Carlos Vela’s return imminent, Philadelphia’s attacking variety and players coming back from participating with their respective national teams, tomorrow’s match could potentially serve as the Black & Gold’s stimulus to revisit the winning column.

Beating the Union at Talen Energy Stadium will be a challenging task as the U has only been defeated twice at home this season (last home loss was 3-2 on May 25th vs Portland). Not only is Philadelphia riding a 7-game unbeaten streak at home, they have won their last four home matches with impressive victories over defending champions Atlanta United and playoff contenders D.C. United. With an expected sold-out crowd, Talen Energy Stadium will provide an electric playoff-worthy atmosphere that LAFC will look to silence with the mesmerizing football they are capable of playing.

Individual Talent

One of the main attacking weapons for Philadelphia is forward Kacper Przybylko, who leads the team in goals with 13 for the season. The 26-year old Polish striker is a physical force in attack with a great sense for scoring goals. LAFC’s backline will be surely be occupied and will try to prevent Przybylko from netting a goal for a fourth consecutive home game. However, Przybylko will not be alone as a supporting cast that contains midfielders Haris Medunjanin, Ilsinho and Jamiro Monteiro will all contribute in the build-up as their combined 24 assists has them as one of the most effective in the league as far as production and creating scoring chances. The jokers in this game will be defender Kai Wagner and attacking midfielder Marco Fabian. Both are tricks that head coach Jim Curtin likes to keep up his sleeve when ball circulation or game-flow is not ideal. Wagner surging from the left back position and Fabian floating behind the forward will be a problem that Bradley may have to find a solution for.

As for the Black & Gold, the possibility of their captain returning to the pitch may be the spark that the team needs to reconnect the chemistry that has been built up until this point in the season. Although LAFC are not a one-man club, it is apparent that the understanding between players on the field has not been the same with Vela on the sidelines. The Mexican international attracts so much attention from opposing defenders that it leaves room for others to operate. Without Vela, that extra space has not been available recently. Already training in full with the team, Vela’s availability for Sunday does not appears to be in doubt. Whether he will be included in the starting XI or come off the bench remains to be seen and is a decision that will be carefully made by Bob Bradley and his medical staff.

Keys To The Match

The keys to winning this game for both sides will be efficiency. LAFC will enjoy spells of possession but that does not necessarily mean goal scoring opportunities. The Black & Gold’s possession-based football tends to force teams to bunker down in defense in an attempt clog the middle of the field, which is where LAFC prefer to display their game. Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin stated earlier this week that his team will not “defend with 10 men outside their own box” in a clear indication that the Union will portray a fearless attitude on the pitch. If that’s the case, it will come down to LAFC’s usage of space, passing precision and adequate decision making to break down the Philadelphia defense. Let’s not forget about the counter press that the Black & Gold have mastered and the direct football when the ball is recovered in their own half. There will be surely be chances created by both sides through transition and counter attack, but only the team that takes advantage of these opportunities will enjoy the sweet taste of victory.

A spot in the playoffs, the top seed in the Western Conference and qualifying for next year’s Champions League are all outstanding achievements but not the main objective. The next step towards that objective is winning the Supporter’s Shield, something obtainable as early as this weekend. This is a game to make a statement to the league and show them that this so-called “slump” is nothing but media-invented publicity. A battle against a top team in the Eastern Conference will measure LAFC’s true capabilities and readiness to take that next step to reaching that main objective: MLS Cup.

Follow me on Twitter @lafcbenjamin to talk LAFC, ask questions or send comments. Thank you for reading and Stay Golden!