We’re at the point in the 2023 MLS season where things start to come into focus. Most importantly, which teams are good and which have work to do. A third of the way into your schedule, we can start to say definitively:
“You are your record.”
But Sporting KC might beg to differ.
A point ahead of the last-place Galaxy in the West, Peter Vermes’ team started the season without a win in its first 10 matches. On Wednesday night, after victories at Seattle and home against Minnesota, SKC snatched a point from LAFC on the road despite going down in the 13th minute thanks to Denís Bouanga’s MLS-best 10th goal of the season.
After the match, Bouanga had this to say about SKC.
“I think Kansas City is the best team I’ve played so far [this season]” Bouanga said through a translator. “They’re a real team.”
That praise won’t earn them any extra points in the standings but maybe we give SKC a few more matches before we deliver judgment.
Here are the Takeaways from LAFC’s 1-1 draw against SKC:
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A Bit Soft
Everything was going to plan. Back at BMO Stadium for the first time since the Concacaf Champions League semifinal triumph two weeks ago, it took just 13 minutes for LAFC to find the back of the net.
Steve Cherundolo’s team started the match on the front foot, getting the better of SKC via some excellent direct attacks and quick movements in and around the opponent’s penalty area. And five minutes after opening the scoring, Bouanga nearly made it two, latching onto a pinpoint long ball in stride from José Cifuentes but bending his shot just wide of the far post.
Maybe it was too easy to start. But after that first 18 minutes or so, LAFC found themselves in unfamiliar territory: desperately defending in their own box for long spells.
What stood out the rest of the first half was the number of times SKC carried the ball into LAFC’s box.
“I’m not sure there was a whole lot, it just looked that way because it doesn’t happen very often,” said Steve Cherundolo of SKC’s box entries after the match.
Whether SKC’s box entries in the first half were more than any opponent thus far this season, I couldn’t tell you. (If someone has that stat, send it my way!) But as Cherundolo said, it was stark because it’s not something we’re accustomed to seeing from LAFC this season.
After the match, Sergi Palencia did his best to diagnose the problem.
“Today the pressure was not as good as always and I think the defensive line dropped too much,” Palencia said. “If we would be to be more high [upfield], it would be better for the team and better for the pressure.
“They moved us from one side to another very easily but I think we saw the mistake at the half and we fixed it.”
SKC finished the match with seven shots, five of which were in the first half. Cherundolo and his coaching staff’s adjustment at half definitely worked but LAFC was maybe lucky to get to the break level at 1-1.
Both Things Can Be True
Speaking of box entries.
Johnny Russell leveled the score in the 20th minute of the match after going on a walkabout inside LAFC’s penalty area. The winger curled his way around four LAFC defenders from the top of the area to just outside the six-yard box without anyone in Black & Gold getting close.
As noted in the previous Takeaway, that soft defense was the biggest problem in the first half. That aside, and although Russell is a gifted finisher, it was a savable shot when you look at its proximity to goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic.
But while he could have done better, it’s fair to say he was also unsighted by Palencia’s tackle attempt, allowing Russell to shoot through his legs. With goals always at a premium in matches, it’s rarely just one thing that contributes to them. Usually, several things go right (or wrong!) leading up to a goal.
In this case, and we’ve seen it in his previous starts, Eldin is totally capable and expects to make a save on that shot. He’s also at a disadvantage because of his defender. It happens. And to be fair, Eldin did his part to make up for it with a point-blank stop on Marinos Tzionis in stoppage time.
Cross your fingers. Cross your toes. Rub a rabbit’s foot. Burn some sage. Do whatever you have to do to keep our boys healthy.
Kellyn Acosta was held out of this match after limping off against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The team is hopeful his injury isn’t serious and he’ll return soon. But then his replacement, Cifu, needed treatment at one point in the same match. If you started looking at those upcoming CCL final dates and worrying just a bit after seeing that, I wouldn’t blame you.
In the 57th minute of this match, play was delayed when Aaron Long took a seat on the pitch near halfway line.
“There’s no injury. Just precautionary,” said Cherundolo after the match.
Cherundolo added that defender Jesús Murillo, who has been sidelined for the last two matches, is “very close” to returning. But just to be safe, can we get a few rolls of industrial-sized bubble wrap? Just enough to last until say June 5.