One match can make your season. But I'm not sure it can break it.
One match can end it. That's for sure. LAFC's inaugural season is over. A 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs has called an end for the Black & Gold on the pitch in 2018.
You can call me a homer - I can sense a few pairs of eyes rolling over and over in heads across the internet. But if you've been here for more than one of the 30-some Takeaways I've churned out after every LAFC match, you know by now my modus operadi is big picture. Because in a lot of ways my view of soccer matches illuminates how I feel about tonight.
In my mind, soccer is to be interpreted like this. There are big events that decide, and sometimes color, outcomes. They're rare and usually far between like goals or red cards. We fixate on them though because they're so easily recognizable - usually because the match comes to a screeching halt at that point. But because they're rare, they shouldn't necessarily tell the whole story. It's why its always better to watch a match than read a box score.
- LAFC 2-3 Real Salt Lake
- 21' RSL - Damir Kreilach
- 31' LAFC - Danilo Silva
- 54' LAFC - Christian Ramirez
- 58' RSL - Damir Kreilach
- 69' RSL - (OG) Walker Zimmerman
The scoreline of a match is at its core is a distillation of hundreds of micro-events that teeter in each instance - sometimes one way, sometimes the other. The real work is in trying to push the majority of those events in your direction through a philosophy and a way of playing that more often than not produces the desired effect.
Through one season in MLS, what LAFC has produced on the pitch pushed the scales their direction for the most part - you don't finish third in the Western Conference and with the most points ever by a first-year team without doing that. This big moment went the opposite direction. But it's only a moment, a temporary halt to play. There will be more moments to replace this one. It's the ideas that instruct the reactions in the countless events leading up to those that really matter.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 3-2 loss to RSL in the Knockout Round of the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs:
RSL Comes With A Plan
You could say they snuck into the playoffs this year, but RSL was prepared.
From the opening whistle, Mike Petke's team were resolute in how they were going to disrupt LAFC. Set up in a middle block, the usual RSL 4-2-3-1 resembled more of a 4-4-2 with the wide attackers pinching and RSL's front two in line with the holding pair of Kyle Beckerman and Luke Mullholland.
By setting up with an almost box formation and keeping the spacing uniform, RSL was able to invite LAFC forward and squeeze them when they passed into dangerous areas. Through the first 15 minutes, LAFC had sterile possession for the most part. And when Damir Kreilach opened the scoring in the 21st minute, RSL didn't need to bunker as much as they needed to keep resolute in the structure they started with.
Danilo Gets It Wrong
I'd bet my life on Danilo Silva dealing with the cross that led to the first goal.
Brooks Lennon floats a simple, last-ditch cross from the end line and Kreilach is on Silva's back shoulder but not necessarily putting a lot of pressure on the center back. Silva mistimes his jump or misreads the cross, and Kreilach just has to collect and finish.
Remember the stuff about moments earlier? Well, if you are going to tune out and write off Silva after that one moment, you're not going to like the next takeaway.
Danilo Gets It Right
Moments, right? Well, after flubbing one moment, Silva got his next chance perfect.
And I don't want you to think Silva's entire match was about two moments: one wrong, one right. He didn't have some rollercoaster match. In fact, RSL had just four shots and two on target. That's a big win for a backline.
But his response to adversity was all you could ask for. A mistake in his end made up for by a thundering header at the other end. Great goal and a moment created by the many events LAFC turned their way leading up to it.
Ramirez Seizes His Moment
Christian Ramirez has played about 35 minutes in the last seven matches. He didn't look rusty at all here.
I can tell you that at training this past week, I was chatting with a few people and out of the corner of my eye paying attention to a reserve scrimmage. In that match, Ramirez was finishing left and right. And not simply putting the ball into the back of the net, he was hitting shots like the one above that had so much power they could barely be contained by the net.
After the match, Bob Bradley commended Ramirez's finishing. A striker that can stay sharp even when he isn't getting minutes is special, but Bradley also shared a little insight into what he'd like to see more of from the forward. It's all about his movement. He's got the finishing down, but Ramirez has to continue to find ways to be involved even when the play doesn't immediately involve him.
Again, it's a great moment. But there are still many little events in between that tell the full story.
If you're determined to be in a bad mood after the loss, I'll give you one takeaway that I hope will show I'm not just blowing sunshine here.
After the match, Bob Bradley pinpointed the one thing he thought plagued LAFC this season and was apparent tonight. With the match at 2-1, LAFC never truly got a hold of the match. They came close, but never finished it off completely.
That left the door open.
Before you run wild with that. Let me clarify what that means. It's not about having a better defense. Or simply stopping teams. It's about putting all the little events together, one after another, into those moments that result in the scoreline going your way. It's about imposing your will on the outcomes. And while that's something that takes time, and sometimes hard lessons, it's a process that LAFC has started.
I'll leave you with something I asked Bradley about in preseason. After a training session, I asked if he was continuing to see success each day. And he gave me an abrupt no. Seeing my puzzled look, he added that progress is never linear. But each day you go back at it and if you believe in your ideas, you'll see the improvements that remind you to keep going.
We'll be back at it again soon.