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In their third away trip of the opening four matches of the 2022 MLS regular season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are set to travel to California to face Western Conference rivals LAFC this Sunday, March 20 at Banc of California Stadium, with kickoff at 7 p.m. PT (pre-game at 6 p.m. PT on AM730, 6:30 p.m. PT on TSN).

Having missed out on the MLS Cup Playoffs last season, there's been a good amount of turnover during the offseason for LAFC with plenty of new signings and the appointment of new head coach Steve Churundolo.

Those additions have made the difference through the first three matches of the season, with LAFC currently sitting tied for first in the West with a record of 2W-0L-1D (7 points).

In this edition of 'Know thy enemy', we look at the key factors of LAFC so far this season and some familiar faces that could lineup against the 'Caps on Sunday.

DEEP-LYING PLAYMAKERS

For the majority of their time in MLS, LAFC have preferred to line themselves up in a 4-3-3 formation and have continued to utilize the system through the first three matches of the season.

A big part of their play is their dedication to making line-breaking passes from the middle of the park to the final third to provide opportunities for their front three.

However, of the three midfielders in their formation, one will be asked to sit farther back to act as a deep-lying playmaker and help dictate the build-up of possession into the final third.

During the past three years, LAFC depended on Colombian midfielder Eduard Atuesta to fill that role, but with his transfer to Brazilian first division side Palmeiras in the offseason, it became critical for the Black and Gold to find a replacement to keep their midfield machine going in 2022.

Enter former Sporting KC midfielder Ilie Sánchez.

The Spaniard was acquired by LAFC during the offseason and has fit in quite nicely into his new team's system, tallying the second most passes into forward zones in the league amongst players to have started all three matches this season and providing defensive stability in front of the backline.

In addition, Sánchez was named to the MLS Team of the Week for both Week 1 and Week 3 for his performances in LAFC's two victories this season.

As vital of a figure as Sánchez has been in this new-look LAFC side, the 'Caps will also need to keep their eyes on US international Kellyn Acosta and Ecuadorian international José Cifuentes, with both also capable of moving the ball through tight spaces from midfield and acting as deep-lying playmakers.

FINAL THIRD MOVEMENT

For LAFC's midfield to make line-breaking passes across the pitch, their attacking trio up top will have to create plenty of chaos in the final third.

With patterns of movement that allow their attackers to go wherever they see space around the field, this allows the midfield trio to have more time on the ball and in turn help create moments of space to make the line-breaking passes Churundolo expects.

Once the midfield is able to make those passes, it allows a player such as 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela to take advantage of the space ahead of him and create magic out of nowhere as he's done in previous years.

Vela, who started the season with a hat-trick on opening day against Colorado Rapids, will most likely be joined by Uruguayan international Brian Rodríguez and Ghanian winger Kwadwo Opoku up top, with both having plenty of technical ability in 1v1 situations and pace to burn.

The movement in the final third from LAFC can also come via the midfield from Cifuentes and Acosta, as they'll look to make late runs into the box to contribute to the team's offence.

FAMILIAR FACES

When the 'Caps and LAFC take to the pitch on Sunday, there will be plenty of familiar faces on both sides.

'Caps defender Tristan Blackmon, who recently signed a contract extension with the club through 2023, spent four seasons with LAFC and will be facing his old side for the first time since making the move to Vancouver last December.

On the other side, a pair of old 'Caps in goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau and defender Doneil Henry could be lining up against the Blue and White after moves to Los Angeles earlier this year, while former 'Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos is now working as an assistant coach for LAFC.

You can catch the match live this Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m. on TSN1 (TV) and AM730 (Radio), with the radio pre-game show starting at 6 p.m. All times in PT.