All preseason matches should be prefaced. And that preface should be exactly this: It's only preseason.
LAFC kicked off its series of preseason training matches on Sunday in a closed-door match against Toronto FC. Like all preseason matches, both teams made a myriad of substitutions over the course of 90 minutes and both teams featured players working together against an outside opponent for the first time.
Although it's relatively inconsequential to the grand scheme of things for LAFC in 2019, the Black & Gold did run out as 3-1 winners on the day. André Horta opened the scoring by finishing off a nice give-and-go with Carlos Vela at the top of the Toronto penalty area. Vela was involved once again for LAFC's second. His shot from inside the box caromed off the far post of Alex Bono's goal and into the path of the Diego Rossi, who easily deposited the ball into the net from 12 yards out. Peter-Lee Vassell slotted home a penalty early in the second half, before TFC's Drew Moor rocketed a header into the top corner of the LAFC net to round out the match's scoring.
2 goals to the good. pic.twitter.com/eVp43SR4si— LAFC (@LAFC) January 27, 2019
Despite my insistence that we begin the first "Takeaways" of 2019 by pumping the brakes a bit though, the show must go on. With players on both teams in varying levels of fitness and possessing an even wider variance of understanding of everything that is expected of them by the coaching staffs, I won't make any overarching observations or single out any one player - for better or worse - but there were a few things here and there that caught my eye.
So, without further ado, let's get right into the takeaways from the first preseason match of 2019:
The most upset I saw Bob Bradley during the entire 90 minutes is when a player didn't take the opportunity in front of them. Whether it was a chance to turn, an upfield pass spurned for a safe backward or sideways layoff, or players not demanding the ball, Bradley made it clear to his squad there needed to be a recognition of advantageous moments and the confidence to execute.
Through both halves, LAFC made building out of the back their prerogative for the match. And it wasn't just about keeping the ball. Players were encouraged to find end roads through the middle of the pitch and connect passes quickly to move the opponent.
For the most part, it came off for LAFC. There were some moments, usually caused by hesitation or lack of confidence on the ball, that had to be snuffed out before Toronto pounced. But again, this early part of preseason is about recognizing the advantages and having the courage to carry out the ideas the coaching staff has been laying out in training and video sessions thus far.
Goals for André Horta and Diego Rossi are the kind of thing you want to see in regularity this season from LAFC. But my biggest takeaways from all three goals were the relationships being established on the pitch by the players.
All three goals were the result of little linkups around the pitch. Horta's came after he recognized the space created by the sagging of the Toronto backline. The midfielder played a pass to Carlos Vela and drove into the open space, before continuing his run onto a return pass and finishing with an accurate low shot. Rossi's goal was similar in how he went right for the heart of the Toronto defense before laying off a pass to Vela as he overlapped the play. The connection set up the LAFC No. 10 for a golden opportunity. Vela hit the post, but Rossi was in the right place at the right time to finish.
The final goal was slotted home coolly from the spot by Peter-Lee Vassell. But it was the holdup play of Rick Lopez-Espin and the off the ball run of Alejandro Guido from midfield that broke the Toronto backline and forced a last-ditch tackle the resulted in the penalty.
Fostering those types of little relationships between attackers and midfielders can be the difference in gaining an advantage in a match. It's that recognition in little areas on the pitch that puts the opponent under serious pressure before they can react. That's something foundational that you'd like to see the players continue to build off.
It's Still Preseason After All
There were slack passes and loose touches. And there were questionable decisions. The marking on set pieces wasn't great, and eventually, Toronto took advantage through Drew Moor. But that's preseason.
For every good item I picked out, I'm positive that Bob Bradley and his staff will have nine more that need improving.
But the starting points are there. So, it'll be back to the film room and training pitch on Monday.