LAFC is underperforming.
Those aren't my words. They belong to MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle. And to be fair, I'm oversimplifying them.
Here's what he actually wrote:
"And here's one more thing to consider: LAFC are actually underperforming their expected points total a little bit! Remember that they came into this game on a bit of a slump with just one win in four, and that they drew their last two games despite a healthy dose of domination both at Seattle and home against Chicago. They just went cold in front of net, for two weeks."
And now here's the greater context - which, again to be fair to Doyle, he led with in his column. LAFC is far and away the best team in MLS through 12 matches in 2019. And they might even be on pace to be the best ever. Here's Doyle again on the Black & Gold:
"Following Saturday's 3-0 win at Columbus, LAFC are first in MLS in points (27), points per game (2.25), goals scored (29), goals per game (2.42), goals allowed (tied with Atlanta with 8), goals allowed per game (all alone at .67) and goal differential (+21).
They are +21 after 12 games. Only two other teams have even scored 21 goals this season. The sum total of current Eastern Conference playoff teams is only +18. The Shield winners from 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013, and 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 had goal differentials of less than +21 across the entire season."
That goal differential is particularly impressive. Put points aside - which LAFC hasn't done much of in 2019, but for the sake of argument - and goal differential is one of those stats that shows just how dominant a team is from week to week.
"A lot of teams throughout the history of football have had a great offensive team or a great defensive team. It's very difficult to have both. It says a lot about Bob [Bradley] and the style of play that he wants," defender Steven Beitashour said after training on Wednesday. "He doesn't want us to be a one style team - we just attack or we just defend. We have to be able to adapt. We have to attack as a team and we have to defend as a team."
As it stands, LAFC's goal differential is on a historic pace. The all-time mark of +41 was set by the Galaxy in 1998. It's a lofty number that has stood for 20 seasons. Through 12 matches to start 1998 though, the Galaxy were just +16 in goal differential. LAFC's five-goal cushion at this stage in the season is pretty substantial.
"It's a testament to the growth that we've seen from Year One to Year Two," defender Walker Zimmerman said of LAFC's statistical dominance thus far. "I think the key for us is focusing each and every game and not getting ahead of ourselves. That's going to be the challenge as we continue to succeed and have all these stats thrown our way. It's really important that we don't let that get to our head."
Like Zimmerman, Beitashour knows a thing or two about maintaining a successful MLS season. The defenders are the only members of LAFC's current squad to have lifted the Supporters' Shield at the end of an MLS season - Beitashour in 2012 with the SJ Earthquakes and 2017 with Toronto FC, Zimmerman in 2016 with FC Dallas.
"For me, the biggest message I can give the guys is don't get complacent. It's easy to look at the standings right now and think all is going well," Beitashour said. "But you have to bring it every week if you want to win the Supporters' Shield. Every single week, you have to forget what happened last week and you have to go into the next game with your mission and that's to play your football and to do all the right things. Get into the attack and defend as a team.
"And if you don't do those things, the rest of the league has enough quality to make you pay. You have to make sure you are focused every single game, every single week."
While LAFC is trending towards the summit in 2019, Zimmerman knows a great start will only carry a team so far. The defender had the rare luck of being on a side that missed out on the Supporters' Shield on the very last day of the season. To no surprise, he wholeheartedly agreed with his fellow defender.
"It's 12 games and we have such a long way to go. Yeah, it's great that players are getting recognized for their great performances and that our team is getting lauded with these statistics, but again, it's imperative that we stay focused, stay grounded, stay committed to doing the things we've been doing these past 12 games, and that no one plays outside of the team.
"We need to continue doing the things that have brought us here in the first place."