It's hard to say what life is like when you've gone winless in your last five matches - six if you count the U.S. Open semifinal defeat. Especially, when you've literally never done it in the history of your Club.
So when you get back on track, you're not quite sure how to feel either. All you know is that you're happy to have three points. And you want to earn three more again, as soon as you can.
After losing for the first time at Banc of California Stadium on Sunday, LAFC returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake. It was the first win for the Club since July 7, and helped push the team up to third in the Western Conference standings. Here are the takeaways from the win:
A Brace For Ramirez
He probably should have had three.
I haven't checked the replay again, so don't quote me on that. But Christian Ramirez did have the ball in the net three times in his first start for LAFC. The SoCal native came so close to scoring in his debut on Saturday, so to have a goal called back for offside and still net a brace is remarkable. And he celebrated like it too.
Welcome home, Christian.
The Movement For the Second
There's so much to like about this goal. Where to start?
Jordan Harvey's combination with Eduard Atuesta to free the midfielder down the flank? The stepovers? Or even the meg of two players for the assist? I want to talk about Christian Ramirez's movement though.
Ramirez straight ghosted defender Aaron Hernandez on this play. As Atuesta breaks unimpeded down the left, RSL's Nick Besler clearly points out the onrushing Ramirez to Hernandez. And he immediately races to front the LAFC center forward, assuming a cross is incoming. Recognizing this, Ramirez checks his run just before Atuesta plays the ball across the face of goal, and then Ramirez continues to give himself a cushion by lightly backpedaling away from Hernandez. The result is an easy tap in from the center of the goal.
But don't discount the backpedal. Ramirez could have made a quick jab step there to entice Hernandez into biting with the run, but recognizing he was on the back shoulder of the defender, that was likely to just draw a tighter mark. Instead, Ramirez establishes a distance a defender might consider "marked" in a less dire situation and then gently eases himself into a yard or two more of space.
It happens quickly, but that extra yard or two makes all the difference when you see just how much time he had as the pass arrived. Ramirez could have walked it in if he really wanted.
Atuesta Adds Balance
In the preview, I talked about LAFC's midfield being the engine that drives the team. When they're dictating play, most times the team is humming along. But they are really best with two players high and one in a deeper position.
Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber have evolved into the most complete midfielders they've ever been in their careers, but they very much still like to go forward. And that's on the ball and off it. With Eduard Atuesta providing balance, Nguyen and Feilhaber have that freedom to hunt for the ball when its in front of them, and know that they have cover behind.
The pivotal moment for me came in the 63rd minute with LAFC committing numbers forward. An attack broke down and the ball found Joao Plata with acres of space and just Atuesta and the LAFC backline to run at. Instead of immediately rushing forward, Atuesta recognized Nguyen as the closest midfielder to the play and held is position, despite Plata looking at about 20 yards of space in front of the LAFC defense. Atuesta held firm in front of the backline, allowing Nguyen to track Plata. As Plata was slowed, he attempted to play a ball into the middle of the pitch and Atuesta had no problems stepping up to pick it off.
That's a transitional situation that LAFC has struggled with due to their aggressiveness to win the ball back, but it was easily thwarted. And even converted into a possession in the opposition's half. Add to that an assist on the second goal, and Atuesta had his best match since returning from injury two weeks ago.
The Return Of Miller
It shouldn't go unnoticed that Tyler Miller made two huge saves to buoy LAFC in his return to the net.
Miller was dropped for the Sporting KC match, and you can say it was a much needed rest, but there were definitely a few extraneous reasons to giving Luis López his first start in goal. So all things considered, after being the No. 1 all season and then sat down for one match, Miller showed he's a gamer.
It's lonely between the posts, but Miller had the right mentality going into the match, and the right one coming out of it. He recognized there's going to be competition for the top spot, but was also right to point out that immediately after one of his big saves, LAFC went and scored at the other end. That's the mindset you hope to see when you re-insert a goalkeeper into the lineup.
Securing The Shutout
LAFC had multiple opportunities to add to its lead in the second half and didn't convert. It wasn't for lack of trying - and it didn't make it any easier on me as I watched from the press box.
With the question marks about the team's management of games, this was a statement. It's the first time I can remember the team needing a goal to kill off the match, and not getting it, and maintaining their advantage to secure three points. In the midst of a five-match winless run, that's massive.
A lot of the thanks went to Tyler Miller's heroics and Danilo Silva's immediate contributions after being inserted into the lineup, but you can't discount what this means to LAFC's psyche gong forward. The team has yet to lose three matches in MLS play on the bounce. The last time they dropped two consecutive, they came out with a 2-0 win, and went on to win an additional two more in a row. With a small cushion re-established in the playoff race, and a match at home Sunday before traveling to Carson, this is the kind of statement victory the Club needs with points becoming so hard to come by and playoffs on the line.