After securing two positive results in the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are getting set for a road trip to Southern California to face Western Conference foes LAFC.
In this edition of “Know thy enemy”, we break down the many threats of a star-studded LAFC roster.
ONES TO WATCH
Coming off a midweek, last-gasp loss to the Portland Timbers, LAFC return home to Banc of California Stadium, where they’ve only lost once in seven games this season.
One of the players who the ‘Caps will have to plan around is the ever-admirable Carlos Vela.
After a slow start to the season for the 2019 MLS MVP, the Mexican international has found his feet in the past couple games, scoring a goal in each of his side’s last two matches including a ferocious volley against Real Salt Lake last weekend.
Vela is always a threat to conjure up moments of magic out of nothing, while also helping move possession around the final third and finding teammates in good spots.
However, Vela isn’t the only player the ‘Caps will have to keep an eye on this weekend.
Last season’s golden boot winner Diego Rossi hasn’t showed any signs of stopping his goalscoring prowess, as he currently leads LAFC with five goals this season, while Ecuadorian midfielder José Cifuentes has added goalscoring to his all-around midfield game with four strikes this season.
But LAFC’s goalscoring success doesn’t happen without 2019 Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta, who dictates possession across the field for LAFC and has an incredible eye for a defence-splitting pass.
During his time with the Black and Gold, Atuesta has registered eight goals and 17 assists in 89 appearances, showcasing his passing ability year after year, and becoming arguably the most important piece on the offensive for LAFC.
The midfielder currently sits in the top 99 percentile in MLS for progressive passes with 9.28 per 90 minutes so it’ll be important the ‘Caps limit Atuesta to very little time on the ball to prevent him from finding his teammates in space, while also keeping an eye on the likes of Vela, Rossi, and Cifuentes around the box.
LAFC have always been known for their possession-based offensive style of football, breaking down teams in the final third and waiting for the best opening to have a crack at goal.
Whether it be Vela causing chaos out wide, Atuesta making a line-breaking pass, Rossi poaching in the penalty area or a cross from deep into the box, there’s plenty of ways LAFC can hurt any team in MLS on any given day.
To do any of the above though, the Black and Gold will keep possession at the top of the opposing box, moving the ball from side to side and waiting patiently to find the most open player in the final third.
Their ideal attacking scenario is to try to isolate Vela out wide in 1v1 situations, but as mentioned above they’ll have plenty of options to choose from if opposing teams don’t pay attention to their supporting cast.
LAFC can also play a pretty good counter-attacking game so the ‘Caps have to be wary they don’t give the ball away in cheap areas to prevent being caught on the counter.
Another big part of their possession game this season has been overloading the wings with their fullbacks to add extra options in the attack.
South Korean fullback Kim Moon-hwan, who joined LAFC this past offseason from Busan IPark, has been a huge part of their overloading success in recent weeks having found a regular rhythm in his new team.
Moon-hwan has showed in his short time in MLS his willingness to get forward to create havoc for opposing teams, whether it be playing one-two’s with Vela, putting low crosses into the box or dribbling past defenders to get a shot off himself.
The 25-year-old already has a goal and an assist to his name in 10 appearances, while also racking up 83% pass completion, 144 passes into the opponent’s half and seven key passes.
Expect LAFC to once again turn to Moon-hwan’s abilities this weekend in an attempt to box the ‘Caps into their own half and create overloads in wide situations.
As much as LAFC can hurt any team on the transition, they themselves have been susceptible to giving up chances on the counter for opposing teams.
This season alone, the side has given up four goals off counterattacks, with two of those coming in the last two matches.
Given their commitment to moving guys up the field and getting everyone involved in the attack, LAFC at times leave themselves vulnerable on the transition.
The ‘Caps have showed moments of brilliance on the counter in the past month, thanks to the play of Colombian duo Deiber Caicedo and Cristian Dájome, so it’ll be something to keep an eye out for in Saturday’s match.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, July 24 at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. You can catch the match live on TSN1/4 and AM730. Pregame shows start at 7 p.m. (TV) and 6:30 p.m. (radio). All times in PT.