Dio. Dio. Dio.
The Norwegian striker put on a show at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday, scoring a hat trick (the first in Club history) in LAFC's 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union. It's the fifth win in a row in all competitions for LAFC, and second straight at home in MLS regular-season play.
Here are five takeaways from the win:
Getting Past A Sluggish Start
After scoring two goals in eight minutes the last time out, Bob Bradley and his players talked about the benefit of quick starts to matches. This wasn't one of those matches for the Club.
Philadelphia did a good job early of keeping a handle on the midfield trio of Benny Feilhaber, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Eduard Atuesta. LAFC like to build through the back by getting their midfielders on the ball and linking passes to open space in front of the opposing side's backline. Between Ilsinho, Warren Creavalle, and Alejandro Bedoya, there was always someone man-marking a midfielder. It forced LAFC's center backs to bypass the midfield early, and the result was a disjointed first half an hour with no rhythm for the Black & Gold.
Mark-Anthony Kaye Puts In A Strong Performance In His Return
If it hadn't been for Dio's three goals, Mark-Anthony Kaye would have been my Man of the Match.
A knee injury kept the midfielder out of LAFC's win over the Crew last week. In his return to the lineup, Kaye was a force in the middle. With LAFC struggling in the first 30 minutes to get much going in midfield, his recoveries aided the attack and put the Union under serious pressure in the defensive third. On the ball, he had a more serene approach we aren't use to seeing from the normally hard-running, energetic midfielder.
After the match, I asked him if he'd had a chance to work with the coaches on anything while he was out last week. Kaye said he didn't change much, but in watching training he got a feel for how much more time and space players had on the ball in certain areas of the pitch. Hearing Kaye say that, then thinking back to how calm he was just before putting the ball on a platter for Dio in the Philly box, it all makes sense.
Dio, Dio, Dio
The first hat trick in club history. pic.twitter.com/vc5cOFHKOy— LAFC (@LAFC) July 1, 2018
Ok, I've wasted enough of your time. Let's talk about the hat-trick hero.
According to Elias Sports, Dio is the first player in League history to score seven goals in his first five matches in MLS. His hat trick against Philadelphia is also the first in Club history - as I noted at the start of my takeaways. And he's now tied with Carlos Vela as the Club's leading scorer. Right now, his goals per 90 minutes is insane (2.12), by far the best in MLS.
The first goal was absolute class. Showing he's not just a lumbering striker up top, Dio had Mark McKenzie spinning like a top. Then his release on the shot was so quick, Andre Blake had no time to set his feet. The second and third goals? Pure striker's goals. Right place, right time.
And I'm just going to leave this here: I'm not totally sure Dio is even at 100 percent, yet.
All The Combinations
There were some really pretty goals in this match.
Dio's second in particular was such a nice combination between Feilhaber and Kaye at the edge of the box, it was almost soccer by numbers out there. It looked so effortless. On the third goal, LAFC built from their own half, went from inside to outside, and then finished with a tap in.
Especially for a team that has only been together for 16 matches, goals like those are pretty remarkable. The amount of time on the training pitch and work with teammates it takes to fluidly pull that off is something we tend to forget. For a squad to put together movements like that in just under a half a season together shows the dedication to the ideas being drilled everyday. Not to mention the intuitive nature of knowing when teammates are going to go here, or how they'll play when a ball goes there. It was just really pretty stuff out there at times.
Take It To The Banc
With the win, LAFC remain undefeated at home. And it's finally starting to feel like we've broken the place in.
The win against Seattle in the opener will always be special. Beating Minnesota in front of a packed stadium on a Wednesday night was something else, too. But these last two matches really feel like LAFC have settled into how they want to play at home. They blitzed the Crew last week, and against Philly it took some warming up, but LAFC were dominant for long stretches.
These are the type of performances the top-tier teams in this league put in at home. After a historic road start, LAFC finally look like they have an identity at home as well.