Year Two starts here.
LAFC host Sporting KC on Sunday at Banc of California Stadium to start the 2019 MLS season. As the only team that beat the Black & Gold twice in 2019, SKC is a tough early test for Bob Bradley's team. Couple that with the fact the visitors have already played two competitive matches - a 5-0 aggregate victory over Toluca in the Concacaf Champions League - and Sunday's match has a lot of intrigue surrounding it.
These two sides play a somewhat similar style and will very likely be vying for the top spot in the Western Conference once again at the end of the season. So while it's only the first matchday, three points could make a difference come October.
Here are the Toyota Keys to the Match between LAFC and Sporting KC:
Disrupt, Disrupt, Disrupt
If you had the chance to watch either of SKC's CCL matches against Toluca, one of the things that would probably stand out is the side's dedication to building from the back. Last season, Peter Vermes' team was known as a possession-oriented side, but the patience with the ball at the back is striking this year.
Last season, SKC played almost exclusively through Ilie Sáchez in the early phases of buildup. In 2019, it appears Vermes has given his center backs more license to dictate play. There were numerous times over the two legs that SKC bypassed Sánchez and either Andreu Fontàs or Matt Besler looked to drive the team forward with a pass or by carrying the ball past the first line of pressure. LAFC need to be dedicated to disrupting SKC's buildup as much as possible. That doesn't mean one guy running without purpose. It means focused pressure on the ball, forcing the ball carrier to delay or play out of his comfort zone, and the surrounding players acting together to cutout outlets.
Easier said than done.
Precision in the final third of matches is the most difficult aspect of football. Teams that have that edge going forward and can hold their nerve in the moment usually end up with the points at the end of the day. During preseason, we saw a lot of good ideas in the buildup. But maybe a pass was slow here, a touch bad there, or a shot just off target. It goes without saying, but those things matter that much more now. On Sunday, it's time to turn the focus up another notch.
Stay The Course
This is a key to this match and beyond for LAFC. The first match of the season is only the first test. Regardless of LAFC's stiff opponent, Sunday isn't only about the result. Will we know if LAFC is a good team if they run over SKC? What about the opposite? Probably negative on both accounts. What is more important is realizing this is the first step and that every week is a test of what the squad has been working on with the coaching staff since the first day of preseason. Get your football right and things will likely go your way. But if they don't, it doesn't mean you scrap the whole thing. It's about staying true to the mentality and philosophy Bob Bradley is instilling in his team and working every day to perfect it.
Sunday is a big test. But there will be many more in 2019.