After LAFC’s 1-0 victory over Seattle in the first home match in Club history, I remarked to somebody that I thought it was the most complete match the team had played.
What followed was a blank stare from that somebody.
Yes, I know LAFC destroyed Real Salt Lake 5-1 in the second match of the year. They put another five past Montreal in a comeback victory. And I’ve seen people saying LA had an uneven match because they couldn’t score against a Seattle defense missing Román Torres and Chad Marshall – to me that sounds like people looking too much at stats and score lines, and not enough at the match itself, not to mention putting too much stock in Torres, but that’s a whole other complex situation I can’t get into here.
The reason I’m saying this was the most complete performance is because it was LAFC’s most balanced performance to date.
A lot of the credit for the balanced display has to go to the LAFC center back pairing of Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman. Both were stellar on the night. And while Ciman deserves his Man of the Match honors following his free-kick goal in extra time, Zimmerman was the standout performer for me.
Against Seattle, Bob Bradley reverted back to a more familiar 4-2-3-1. I wrote in my takeways after the match that fullbacks Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey spent long stretches of the match high up the pitch. The freedom afforded to those two was facilitated by two factors: the pressing from the front by Omar Garber, playing in an advanced role in his first MLS start, and the near flawless performance of Zimmerman.
With Beitashour and Harvey flying up the pitch, Zimmerman more often than not found himself with only his center back partner in the LAFC backline. The Sounders countered by pushing Clint Dempsey, normally akin to playing in the hole behind a striker, up high next to forward Will Bruin, resulting in Zimmerman and Ciman bodied up in 1v1 situations at almost all times.
Playing a high line, and with little cover in behind, Zimmerman had to be decisive in his movements on the night. Going toe-to-toe with the physical Bruin, Zimmerman won a match-high six aerial battles, denying service constantly to the Seattle target man.
A look at Zimmerman’s defensive map on the night shows the center back clogging up the middle of the pitch and forcing turnovers some distance from his own goal. Deep in his own end, he also provided a goal-line clearance, smartly backing up goalkeeper Tyler Miller, late in the match to preserve the clean sheet.
But it wasn’t just Zimmerman’s work defensively that impressed. The center back had his best passing match of the season.
Playing 65 passes, the US international found his target over 86 percent of the time. Starting the season injured, Zimmerman initially had some trouble finding his range. He looked unsure of when to carry the ball and when to play through pressure. That was not the case against Seattle.
His passing map shows quite a few medium to long passes in positive areas on the pitch. A number of times, Zimmerman stepped up with the ball to break Seattle’s initial line of pressure as well. The breaking of the lines had dual results for Zimmerman and LAFC. Zimmerman frustrated the Sounders’ counter pressing through Dempsey and Bruin, all while employing LAFC’s best defensive tactic: keeping the ball away from its opponent.
Coming into the home opener, there were concerns about LAFC’s backline. A center back pairing usually takes time to foster an understanding, and we definitely witnessed some growing pains between Zimmerman and his captain in prior matches. But their performances against Seattle showed that the foundation is there, and it’s a platform the rest of the LAFC team can thrive off of going forward.