There's a first for everything at a Club in its inaugural season. Unfortunately, not every one will be a pleasant occasion.
After crashing out of the U.S. Open Cup semifinal by way of a penalty shootout Wednesday, LAFC fielded a heavily rotated side at home on Saturday against Sporting KC. For the first time in Club history, LAFC walked off the pitch at Banc of California Stadium with zero points in hand.
- LAFC 0-2 Sporting KC
- 17' Gerso Fernandes
- 66' Ilie Sánchez (PK)
Losing is always a bitter pill to swallow. When its your first-ever loss at home, it's that much more difficult. Here are the takeaways from the 2-0 loss at home to Sporting KC:
SKC Constrict LAFC Early
Aside from the Gerso Fernandes goal in the 17th minute, the first half was pretty blasé in a lot of respects. Sporting KC set out to control the match by pressing up on LAFC's midfield two of Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen, and the Black & Gold weren't able to establish and continuity or rhythm in possession. The result was a lot of safe horizontal passes completed, with very little going on vertically.
Take a look at the LAFC pass map for the half. Yikes!
Nothing in dangerous areas and very little involvement from the LAFC front three. And the result was no shots on target and just two off target in the first half for LAFC.
Don't Just Say "Defense"
This might be a pet peeve more than a takeaway, but I think it's important.
Over the past few weeks, almost all of I've seen people talk about is LAFC's need for defense. As if defense is just something you can inject into a team. And it drives me a bit crazy because it misses the basic nuance of the game that makes it so great. This type of football has no real delineation between offense and defense, and its important to understanding just how much its a team game. That's the real beauty of the sport.
So take SKC's first goal. It's below, let's break it down, and you tell me where just adding some "defense" would fix everything.
First off, the play starts with LAFC on the ball. So definitely not defense. As they attempt to build out of the back, Sporting KC have four players in close proximity to one side of the pitch and are crowding out João Moutinho, while they are tightly marked to his options further up the pitch. Diego Rossi drops into midfield to try and provide an outlet, but the pass carries him further into the quartet of players SKC have in the area, the ball turns over and now SKC are on the break with numbers forward.
But Lee Nguyen reacts quickly, and he is on the ball carrier within just a few yards. While this is happening, Gerso Fernandes, who was originally in his own half when this all started, goes on a dead run towards the LAFC goal, anticipating the play coming his way. The closest player to him before he started his run, Tristan Blackmon is trying to provide width with LAFC in possession and Benny Feilhaber sunk deep to form a line of three with the center backs. Once LAFC lose the ball, Blackmon has to sprint back with Fernandes already having a head start, Nguyen slips on his way to the player on the ball, and Feilhaber has to respect the run through the center by Felipe Gutiérrez. From the turnover to Fernandes' shot, it takes just 10 seconds.
Run through that series of events again, and if any one thing changes slightly, LAFC might go into halftime at 0-0. And with the adjustments made then, maybe things are different. But the real point is many times goals occur as a result of a series of events, and a lot of times it starts from when a team is in control of the ball, not "playing defense."
Lots Of Debuts
Three players got their first starts for LAFC, one of which saw the first MLS minutes of his career, and foruth player picked up his first appearance with the Club.
André Horta made his first start of the season for the Black & Gold, and went the full 90 for the first time in his MLS career. The Portuguese midfielder had trouble finding the match in the first half, but after an adjustment to the midfield in the second half, he had some nice moments. You can tell he is still finding his way in the system, and both he and his teammates are learning each other on the fly. But his quality on the ball was evident in glimpses.
Also getting his first start was Danilo Silva. The center back had a brief stint at the end of the match with the Red Bulls, but was at the heart of the LAFC defense from the start on Saturday. He was the most consistent performer on the team tonight, providing a blend of physicality and quality playing the ball out the back. He had a few very nice tackles and stepped up into the play on more than one occasion. As SKC squeezed the LAFC midfielders in the opening frame, Silva played some nice long diagonals that relieved pressure and sprung what little attacks LAFC had.
Recently acquired from Minnesota United, Christian Ramirez came on as a second half substitute with LAFC down 2-0. It took the center forward less than 10 minutes to nearly get his first goal for the Club. His attempted diving header from a Horta pass was just a fraction from coming off.
And finally, Luis "Buba" López made his LAFC and MLS debut in goal. After being out of action for over six months, the Honduran goalkeeper got took over for Tyler Miller in this one. He made a few nice saves, but made should have parried the shot that led to the penalty a little further. All and all, though, he had very few saves to make. But that didn't stop him from leaving us with this bit of fun:
Unlucky In The End
On the balance of things, the 2-0 scoreline really flatters SKC just a bit more than the actual play on the pitch. The players Bob Bradley inserted as part of the rotation acquitted themselves fairly well, especially when you consider the last time the squad was rotated in Minnesota.
Sporting KC got a well deserved goal off a turnover, but weren't dominate by any stretch. In the second half, LAFC hit the post on two occasions and had a few shots blocked close to goal in some nervy moments for the visitors. One thing Bradley said in his press conference after the match really stuck out as LAFC go through a bit of a rut - five matches without a win but still only the second time all season the team has lost consecutive matches in MLS play.
The gist of it was that in the MLS season, there are times due to the schedule or international duty or other competitions like the Open Cup, where you can't always consistently apply your football ideas from match to match. But the hope is, that if you lay a foundation for those ideas everyday, in training and here and there in matches, that when you go through rough stretches, you can take harness those experiences. So when you're finally able to settle down and combine them with the ideas going forward, hopefully the result is a team united by its play on the pitch and its experiences over the course of a season.
Right now, LAFC are pretty low. But at the same time, they were within a penalty shootout of the first final in Club history, in its first season and still above the playoff line. With two more matches at home in the next eight days, they have the platform to get back on track.