Like so many other firsts for LAFC this season, the first midweek match in Club history was a success. Minnesota United arrived at Banc of California Stadium with defending in mind, but a professional performance from Bob Bradley’s side got the job done 2-0 on the night.
Normally, in this space, I’d write about a single player that stood out over the course of the 90 minutes. But in light of two players scoring their first goals for the Club, I thought I’d put the spotlight on the decisions they made before putting the ball in the back of the net.
Of course, I’m referring to Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye’s goals in the 31st and 37th minute, respectively, of Wednesday night’s contest. Both goals were the result of minute decisions that could easily go overlooked. But that’s what the spotlight is for, so let’s dive in.
We’ll start with Atuesta. In live time, this goal is your standard cutback to the top of the box and finish. Diego Rossi creates some width with a good starting point, notices the defender isn’t tight enough, lifts his head, and smartly picks out Atuesta. 1-0 LAFC.
But notice Atuesta’s movement as the play develops. The entire night, Minnesota was resolute in keeping its backline tethered together, so as Rossi picks up the ball all four defenders move in unison towards their own goal.
Seeing this, Atuesta starts his run in between the two center backs. He has eyes across the field, so as the fullback is attending to Rossi, and the center back on that side is doing the same, Atuesta off the back shoulder of Michael Boxall is essentially invisible to half the United backline.
Here’s where Minnesota makes the biggest mistake. With Boxall providing support to his fullback Carter Manley out wide on Rossi, the other center back Francisco Calvo is not tight enough on Atuesta once they are inside the 18. And he’s ball watching.
Once Rossi cuts back and picks up his head, Atuesta recognizes the space and checks his run. This turns three yards of space into five, and despite a last-ditch challenge from Calvo, Atuesta has the skill to make a smooth pivot onto his right foot and strike his first MLS goal.
Six minutes later, it was the turn of Atuesta’s midfield partner.
This wasn’t a particularly pretty pattern of play, but it did take some smart recognition on the part of Kaye. Once again, with United defending at about the width of their penalty box, LAFC initiate this movement wide. This time it is Carlos Vela on the ball. Vela cuts in on his preferred left foot and attempts a cross into the box that’s deflected nearly at the point of contact.
In a numbers perspective, Minnesota aren’t in bad shape here. All four defenders are back, as are two midfielders. But again, no one on United’s side is tight enough as the ball is played in and they’re all ball watching once again.
This allows Latif Blessing – yes, all 5 feet 4 inches tall of Latif Blessing – to win a header near the center of the box and Kaye to smash home at the back post from six yards out.
Kaye makes two smart decisions in this sequence. First, he recognizes Minnesota’s six men in the box and that he is the farthest LAFC midfielder forward when the play develops, so he powers towards the back post anticipating Vela’s cross. Second, once the cross is deflected, notice the couple of steps Kaye takes back to get onside before Blessing skies to nod the ball into his path.
Asked about the movement after the match by ESPNLA 710’s Dave Denholm, Kaye admitted the step back was more “instincts” than a conscious decision. Either way, you see so many players lazily hold their run during a broken play like that and negate their own opportunity. For Kaye, it resulted in his first MLS goal.
So there you have it. Not a classic by any stretch. But two smart decisions from LAFC midfielders and it’s three points in the bag for the Club on a quick turnaround from Saturday. Now riding a five-match unbeaten streak with NYCFC coming to the Banc on Sunday (May 9 at 5:30pm PT | FS1), we’ll see if LAFC can build off this momentum.