With LAFC set to face the Galaxy on Saturday in a marquee match-up at 5 pm PT on FOX at Dignity Health Sports Park, the big question that looms over this match-up is will the 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela be ready to play. Vela, who has scored 10 career goals vs. the Galaxy in eight games, has only played 22 minutes in 2021 after leaving the first match of the season vs. Austin on April 17 with a right quad strain. Vela continues to work his way back to full fitness and has been training this week leading up to the match-up with the Galaxy and Mexican National teammate Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but LAFC head coach Bob Bradley was not ready to say if he would be in the lineup.
“Carlos is doing a little bit in training,” Bradley said. “That is always important for us. The situation will be looked at, and we will make a decision in the coming days.”
Bradley knows that the passionate fanbases of both teams want to see the match-up of top Mexican goal scorers.
“These are two big players in the league,” Bradley said. “When there are good games like this and big players playing, that brings a lot of attention.”
After facing a top striker in Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders in the second game of the season, Bradley and LAFC know what to expect from a talented goal scorer like Hernandez.
“Whenever you play against a striker who is alert and smart and steps out and takes chances in the box, that just means that the awareness and the alertness and the reactions of everyone has to be at the highest level,” Bradley said. “That is clearly the challenge of playing against Chicharito is all about.”
The other LAFC starter who is working his way back into training is Tristan Blackmon. Blackmon started the Black & Gold’s season opener vs. Austin on April 17 in defense, but then was forced to miss the next to match due to COVID-19 Health & Safety Protocols and played just five minutes off the bench on May 1 in Houston.
“Tristan is back and doing well,” Bradley said. “That part is great.”
Blackmon, who has started in 27 of his 34 appearances since 2019, will be available for heavier minutes vs. the Galaxy.
READY FOR THE GALAXY
Just moments after walking off the field in Houston, LAFC fans and media members were already turning their eyes to Saturday’s upcoming match-up vs. the Galaxy. LAFC’s players are now focused on the rivalry, especially several newcomers who will be making their first appearance in the derby.
“Of course, ‘El Trafico’ is special for all of us,” Bradley said. “They have all been big games, but every time we play is a big game.”
It will be the first opportunity for Corey Baird to participate in the much-hyped rivalry that before now he has watched from afar on TV.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere,” Baird said. “From the outside, you see the excitement, the drama and the intensity and emotion that is in that game. So for me to get to experience that, I am very excited and keep working on the things we need to work on throughout the week.”
Marco Farfan participated in another big MLS rivalry in the Pacific Northwest between the Timbers and Seattle Sounders, but now he is ready to see what the LA rivalry is like up close.
“This is a really big game,” Farfan said. “We are going to try and get the three points and try to play our football.”
Mark Anthony Kaye has participated in some of the biggest moments in this rivalry, and is eager to get back in front of the fans in such a big match-up.
“It’s always exciting when we play the Galaxy,” Kaye said. “Knowing how important this game is to the city and the league, but also to the development and growth of the game within North America, it is cool to know that and know that we have such a big role to play in that.”
FEAR THE BAIRD
LAFC forward Corey Baird has started off the 2020 season hot. Baird leads LAFC with two goals, and ranks tied for the fourth-highest goal tally in the league. It is the first time in Baird’s career that he has scored two goals in the first three games to start a season, and just the second time that he has started the first three matches of a new season.
“He is doing well,” Bradley said about Baird. “He works very hard, that helps us. He puts pressure on and makes deep runs. He does a lot of the little things like that. Overall he has been a good addition and we are happy to have him.”
Baird’s 221 minutes played through the first three games are the most minutes he has played in his career to start a season, but he is hungry for more.
“I think I have a lot of room to grow,” Baird said. “I think I need to pick up on things and keep performing at a higher level and creating more chances.”
LOCKING IT DOWN
The LAFC defense has been consistently strong through the first three games of 2021. Not only have the Black & Gold have allowed two goals in three matches, but they rank fourth in MLS in fewest expected goals* allowed, with 2.9 expected goals allowed per game.
“Our team mentality has been really good in the first couple of games,” Kaye said. “Defensively, we’ve been solid, and we just continue to try and tackle certain things.”
Last season, LAFC ranked 11th in expected goals allowed with 1.32 expected goals per game.
*Expected goals (xG) is the probability that a shot will result in a goal based on the characteristics of that shot and the events leading up to it. Every shot is compared to thousands of shots with similar characteristics to determine the probability that this shot will result in a goal.
LIMITING BIG CHANCES
LAFC has been successful limiting opponents to prime scoring opportunities in 2021. The Black & Gold have only conceded three “big chances” [0.3xG or more] this season.
“We certainly go into games trying to find ways to create chances and then trying to find ways to control as many situations defensively as possible,” Bradley said. “When you do that well, then you don’t give away too much.”
In 2020, LAFC allowed a total of 34 big chances in 22 games.
SET PIECE IMPROVEMENT
The Black & Gold have not allowed a goal off a set piece so far this season. Opponents have attempted 25 set pieces in 2021, including 18 corner kicks – but have yet to score.
“I think defensively we’ve been good,” Bradley said. “We’ve won the ball back in really good ways.”
In 2020, LAFC opponents scored two goals off set pieces in the first three regular season matches, and scored a total of 10 goals on set pieces last season.
· Danny Musovski ranks 4th in MLS with 4.74 shots per 90 minutes
· Eduard Atuesta leads MLS with 32 passes into the final third
· Atuesta is first in MLS with 294 touches
· Latif Blessing leads MLS with 122 pressures and is 5th in the league with 12 interceptions
· Jesus Murillo leads MLS with 34 clearances