Preseason: 3 Takeaways From LAFC's 2-2 Draw With Atlanta

Bob Bradley wasn't in the best mood.

The other members of the media that joined me to hear the head coach after LAFC's 2-2 preseason draw with Atlanta United might put that first statement into stronger terms but I've come to know, and possibly understand, Bradley in these moments.

Yes, his team started brightly against the MLS Cup holders. And yes, they scrapped back from a 2-0 deficit. But no, he wasn't happy with how the match was likely going to be recounted by me and my colleagues - and he didn't hold back.

"Overall, there's a lot of good football in the first half but it's got to be that now the things we try to do get done at a little bit faster level, a little bit harder level. So it's this attempt of trying to do nice things but not doing any of it in a strong enough way to add up against a good team," Bradley said in his opening comments after the match. "Maybe if we play the exact same half against a different opponent, maybe at halftime we'd be up 2-0 and all you guys would be saying, 'Oh that was great.' And I would say, 'No, it's not that good.' And you would wonder why? It's because I still know what it looks like on those other kinds of days."

It's still preseason, and Bradley acknowledged that his team was just three weeks in, but he made himself clear throughout his postmatch interview. A 2-2 draw against Atlanta isn't going to mean much in the regular season if his team doesn't raise its level. So with that in mind, here are some of my takeaways from the match:

The Backline Maybe Deserved Better

Despite the 2-0 scoreline at the interval, I thought the backline of Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman, Eddie Segura, and Jordan Harvey was the strongest component of LAFC's first half. 

Atlanta had a front trio of Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, and Pity Martinez. With Barco and Pity taking up positions in the channels and between the lines, Josef did his usual hard running through the middle, trying to stretch the LAFC defense at every turn. Zimmerman and Segura looked comfortable both pushing the line high to keep the team connected and dealing with Josef when he tried to get behind them. 

After the match, Zimmerman admitted it was the first he and Segura had played together in a competitive situation outside of an 11v11 scrimmage in training. You wouldn't have been able to tell though, as they passed off Josef pretty flawlessly - even catching Josef offside on one occasion with a smart step forward in the first half.

After the season Josef had in 2018, that's no easy task for a new backline partnership.

Lack Of Sharpness Hurts On Both Ends

Ten minutes into the match, LAFC looked to be on the front foot. Sure, they missed a pass by a step here or there, but they were able to recover the ball early and recycle possession.

But as those missed passes piled up, Atlanta grew into the match.

The lack of sharpness resulted in transition opportunities for Atlanta - and subsequently two goals off those moments - but more devastating was LAFC's abandoning of its identity. As passes and touches went astray, players looked less likely to make the run or get into the next space for a pass. LAFC weren't producing opportunities and the team wasn't threatening behind Atlanta's backline at all. What's worse, by keeping the ball around the periphery, LAFC set themselves up for Atlanta to counter at every turn - Barco and Pity weren't much of a factor when LAFC saw a lot of the ball but as the Black & Gold lost more possessions, the midfield and defense couldn't get close enough to usher the duo into the safe areas as they did to start the match.

When you re-read Bradley's statement above in conjunction with this takeaway you get why he was upset after the match. The scoreline flatters to deceive a bit. Bradley knows if his side has a level they haven't hit yet. 

A Response Is Still A Response

For all the disappointment of the first half, LAFC did manage a result. It was by no means pretty, but it can't be left unsaid.

Adrien Perez's willingness to keep his legs moving forward and dispossess an Atlanta defender before rounding Brad Guzan showed a bit of resolve. And if you backpedal on Carlos Vela at the top of the penalty area, he doesn't need a second invitation to make you pay. With the changeover from the first half, not to mention the intermittent deluge of rain, that's a positive takeaway.

I just wouldn't make too much of it. There's still a lot of work to do.

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