They said it all weeklong. The New England Revolution were confident they could go into Banc of California Stadium, flex their athleticism against LAFC, and get a result. On Saturday, the Revolution drove their point home.
Despite going down to a goal from Marco Ureña in the 52nd minute, the Revolution hammered away at LAFC. Resolute in their high-press game plan, New England disrupted LAFC's passing rhythm and forced wave after wave of emergency defending from the Black & Gold's backline. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller did his best to parry away the Revolution's growing number of chances late in the second half, but it was one too many in the end, as Brandon Bye converted from an incomplete clearance off a corner kick.
Here are the takeaways from the 1-1 draw at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday night:
It's no secret that New England under Brad Friedel have become a pressing machine. Friedel sets up his team to disrupt the opponent and seize upon errors.
LAFC was hyperaware of the danger New England's press can cause. Just look at the amount of balls they sent over the top to start the match. With New England going 1v1 across the pitch, LAFC weren't willing to risk too much early and actually found some chances through the hard running of Marco Ureña and Diego Rossi up top. But as the match wore on, New England continued to put LAFC under duress when the Black & Gold attempted to get back to their brand of passing football.
In his postgame press conference, Bob Bradley put it down to his side being a little slow in its decisions and lacking a bit of bravery. To break the press, its the second and third pass you've got to find, and that's usually the hardest. Most pressing sides have triggers, so they'll give you the first pass to lure you into traps. What LAFC lacked tonight was the timing and guile to move New England by progressing the ball to the next man. Too often the ball was moving and a Revolution player was already there to harass the LAFC player on the ball. There just wasn't the time to think out there, and LAFC's football suffered as a result.
Let's Get Physical
Teams have been unapologetic about playing LAFC very physical as of late. On Saturday, New England racked up 27 fouls to LAFC's 12.
In MLS, it's an effective tactic - warnings, not yellow cards, are usually the result of tactical fouls. We saw it time and again, LAFC runners pulled and jabbed at as they tried to create separation from Revolution defenders. When you talk about LAFC's problems in decision making, you definitely have to consider how a player sees the field when he's constantly having to fend off challenges and lunges at his feet. But it's something the team better get use to fighting through. Points are at a premium now, and at the end of the day, teams are willing to get them anyway they can.
Marco Breaks Through
Week in and week out, when Marco Ureña is on the pitch for LAFC, opposing defenders know they better be ready to move. The Costa Rican is constantly darting behind and doing a lot of the hard running players prefer to leave to someone else. But Ureña relishes it. And despite being the impetus of numerous successful attacking movements this season, the only thing he was lacking was a goal of his own - until Saturday night.
Funny enough, it came with Ureña at a complete standstill. The LAFC center forward just happened to be free at the side of the goal, and his shot somehow powered through a thicket of legs in the New England six-yard box. He won't care how cleanly it went in though, just that the ball found the net. What a relief that must have been.
Fire Drill Defending
During the week, New England head coach Brad Friedel noted that he thought LAFC could be had in transitional moments. I'm not sure I agree with him, but he must have believed it because every time his side turned LAFC over it was off to the races.
In the end, the backline of Steven Beitashour, Danilo Silva, Walker Zimmerman, and Jordan Harvey were actually quite effective defending against New England's direct approach. They raced back and broke up most of the counters launched by Friedel's team, and Tyler Miller was there to do the rest. But you could tell that type of last ditch defending was taking a toll on them. When you're playing the high line that LAFC likes and moving up the field as a unit, if you are continually having to run back to your own goal at full speed, it's going to catch up to you.
Tyler Puts In Another Man Of The Match Performance
For a while there in the second half, Tyler Miller was simply the difference in the match.
He turned away two 1v1 opportunities and was positioned perfectly on a couple more shots from distance. In the end, Miller couldn't hold on to his ninth shutout of the season, but it definitely wasn't on him that LAFC let points slip through their fingers.