On to the semifinal.
If the 0-0 on Sunday with Portland left a bad taste in your mouth, this win was the palate cleanser. Wednesday night's Open Cup quarterfinal compared to Sunday was night and day, figuratively and literally. There was space on the pitch. Both teams attacked. There were goals. And much of it was precipitated by the cooler conditions as a result of the 7:30 pm start.
There's a lot to talk about from LAFC's 3-2 win, so let's get right to the takeaways:
As Much As Things Change, They're Still The Same
Before we talk about all the differences between the two matches, I have to shine a light on Tyler Miller once again.
Just as he did Sunday in the 0-0 draw, Miller bailed LAFC out early once again. This time, it was not one save, but two, on Dairon Asprilla in the 18th minute. Both shots were to Miller's right, and I'm not sure which I like better. He has to get low real quick on the first one. But I think the reflexes to paw away the second attempt might have been just a fraction better. You be the judge.
Weight Off Ureña's Shoulders
How big is the goal in the 51st minute for Marco Ureña? It was his first in a competitive match for LAFC, and he was still beaming after the match.
It's no secret Ureña had begun to press the issue a bit after being scoreless in nine matches to begin his season in Black & Gold. He'd been so pivotal to the Club's style of play before an injury sidelined him and then World Cup duty called, but for all his contributions, you knew he just needed to find the back of the net to feel whole. What striker wouldn't? So seeing Ureña in the right place, at the right time, to finish Jordan Harvey's errant shot was such a welcomed sight from the press box tonight.
And I've got to say, as far as open-net goals go, Ureña nonchalant flick of his right foot had a bit of style to it. It was almost too cool. Hopefully, the goal, and its significance, returns a bit of composure to Ureña's game.
Dips In Focus
As Bob Bradley is apt to say in his postgame press conferences, I see the good and the bad.
Two things drain the life out of a team: giving up goals just before the half and giving up goals just after scoring. LAFC did both tonight.
The goal to end the first half is the result of consecutive errors that could have been avoided. First, the foul on Diego Chara with his back to goal. If there is one thing Chara is not, it's a danger in the attacking third. And he's definitely not going to do much with his back to goal from 30 yards out. Then, the marking on the set piece is suspect, and I think Miller probably has to just clear everyone out on the play by coming in hot. But again, a succession of errors.
As for conceding a minute after scoring? There's a few missed tackles that are just careless, a sign of a dip in focus. LAFC can't afford to have these let offs, especially as they continue to forge their ability to close out matches.
Speaking Of Closing Out Matches
But I have to give credit where credit is due. LAFC found a way to right the ship and kill off this match.
The Timbers brought on Samuel Armenteros in the 70th minute and Diego Valeri in the 80th, and despite enjoying a bulk of the possession, they didn't have more than one clear-cut chance after bringing the deficit to one in the 52nd minute. Not to mention, LAFC had two goals canceled out by the offside flag - only one correctly, might I add.
So for all the talk of dips in focus, there has to be some consideration for the mentality it took with a place in the semifinal on the line to close out that match.
Vela As The No. 10
It just felt right seeing Carlos Vela pulling the strings from a more central position. Last match, the Mexican international had to do his work from outside to inside. On Wednesday night, he returned to what he said after the match was his best position.
The primary difference can be seen in his chalkboard from the match. Look at his contributions from just in front of the penalty area:
Four pass attempts, one key pass, an attempted dribble, and a goal, all in one of the most dangerous areas on the pitch. This is where you want someone with Vela's profile, where he can be a danger running at defenders, slipping a pass, or going for goal. Playing centrally as a No. 10, Vela gets the benefit of the spaces created by the width of Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing and the selfless running of Ureña.
It's with Vela in this position that the team looks most balanced and dangerous. While it's been a joy to watch the three midfielders rotate and tradeoff playmaking duties lately in matches, there's just something about having Vela always in place to deliver a killer ball.
But as Bradley pointed out afterwards, it's just one way the team can be set up depending on the type of match and the opponent. And that flexibility of ideas is something a lot of teams in MLS lack. The ability to change tactics and the balance of a formation from match to match, or even in match, will keep a team in any contest. And the fact LAFC have built to this so quickly is a credit to the entire technical staff.