Walker Zimmerman headed in a pair of goals from corner kicks on either side of the halftime interval, and LAFC held strong to secure a 2-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes during a midday match on Saturday.
This was a far cry from LAFC's epic 4-3 comeback victory in the reverse fixture up in San Jose. But it was an important win in the race for a playoff spot and to keep the Black & Gold in contention for one of the top two spots for the Western Conference.
Following a pair of 2-0 wins over Real Salt Lake and Colorado, Bob Bradley said it's the type of scoreline that shows a team is in control. In other words, you're able to find the first goal, hold your opponent's response at bay, and then find the second goal, before killing off the match completely. Against the Earthquakes on Saturday, LAFC were in control, despite rarely getting out of second gear. It's a win. But it wasn't exactly perfect.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 2-0 victory at home against the Earthquakes:
Set Pieces For The Win
If I'm not mistaken, LAFC's two goals from corner kicks on Saturday are the first of the season - oddly enough, Walker Zimmerman might be able to claim that distinction prior to this match, but his goal against NYCFC was ruled an own goal, so I'm calling these the first.
In a match where LAFC's attackers weren't at the top of their game, getting a boost from set pieces was monumental. LAFC dominated with eight shots on target to San Jose's one, but they never really got out of second gear. Carlos Vela had a so-so match by his standards, and I think he can admit he should have scored when Adama Diomande played him in on goal in the 22nd minute.
Either way, it's nice to see LAFC capitalize on multiple corner kicks - especially, considering they had 12 on the day. After the match, Jordan Harvey noted how pivotal set pieces can be in the playoffs. If the Black & Gold waited this long to start clicking on them, that's not such a bad thing.
Walker Zimmerman x2
A nice bonus when your center back bags a brace.
Two goals, one off his head... the other, he admitted probably was more head to shoulder. But he'll take it. Not a bad way to open your account for LAFC, and two pivotal goals to keep his side headed in the right direction. As mentioned above, when the attackers aren't getting it done, it's nice to know your defenders can chip in from time to time.
Atuesta Provides Balance
Zimmerman rightfully takes the Man of the Match honors. When a center back nets a pair and helps the team hold a clean sheet, that's hard to argue. But I need to shine a light on Eduard Atuesta.
He was fantastic pacing the side on Saturday. Here's a look at his distribution over the 90 minutes:
The midfielder was always available to teammates, and it's not obvious here, but you can see by how central his passes were that he wasn't afraid to work in crowded areas. This is the type of involvement Bob Bradley asks of his midfield. They need to be a focal point for teammates in possession and in defense. And they need to be positionally aware to help with the counterpress.
Atuesta had countless recoveries and his three tackles were crucial.
It's All About Control
Week in and week out, one of the core tenants of Bob Bradley's picture of how a team should play is the ability of his backline to step up and make plays. Against San Jose, this was one of the highlights of the match.
The best example was a step by Steven Beitashour just before halftime. With LAFC pressing for a second goal, San Jose managed to gain control of the ball and looked to find an outlet to the right side of LAFC's defense. Caught between dropping to defend and moving forward, Beitashour made the decision to deny the pass, and the result was an additional possession and a chance created by LAFC.
After the match, Zimmerman spoke the confidence of his backline on Saturday. He noted their ability to step in the right moments was predicated on the control of the team in possession. Despite the attack not finding a goal from open play, their patience and controlled possession allowed the players behind the ball time to step up to opponents, so that when there was a turnover, LAFC could regain possession quickly.
It didn't result in goals, but exerting that control on the match is something the side has been striving for as of late.
A Step Closer To The Playoffs
LAFC's magic number is now at nine. Any combination of nine points gained by LAFC in the final five matches and points dropped by Vancouver will secure a playoff birth for the Black & Gold.
After today's match, LAFC are on 50 points (only two other expansion teams have reached the 50-point plateau in their inaugural season in MLS history). It was reported this week that Bradley and the team talked about a goal of 60 points, and after the match, the LAFC head coach confirmed that goal. If they reach it, they'll secure a playoff spot without the help of Vancouver, and might even win themselves a first-round bye.