To those of you out there peddling some version of Carlos Vela is coasting/heart isn't in it/doesn't like soccer, let's dial it back a bit.
As if the LAFC captain's play on the pitch wasn't enough to tell you otherwise, here's Exhibit A. You tell me if a player that doesn't have his heart in it puts his body in harm's way like this:
At the very least, that's reckless. But the distance Bressan makes up to even attempt that tackle tells me there's more to it than just negligence. And this is the type of stuff Vela has dealt with on a near-weekly basis.
The only reason I mention it is to explain the bit of chippiness following LAFC's 2-0 win over FC Dallas on Thursday night. But also because the tired narrative of Carlos Vela not caring has appeared again after he wasn't included in Mexico's Gold Cup squad.
I'm not sure I've ever covered a player that produces this much on the pitch only to have his dedication questioned time and again - he's led LAFC to 30 points in 13 matches, spare me the "he's not trying hard enough" shtick and watch a match for once, please!
Anyways, I'll get off my high horse and let's get right to the takeaways from the 2-0 win:
Coming to Banc of California Stadium with a plan to put men behind the ball has been all the rage this season. To be fair to FC Dallas, they arrived in LA with more than a couple of injuries but they weren't going to let the en vogue style pass them by.
There was maybe a five-minute period to start the match where Dallas bluffed a bit. They had players high up the pitch and even pressed for a hot minute. But quickly, they settled into a 5-4-1 shape in a middle-ish to low block.
Gone were the attempts to play out of the back, aside from passing amongst the three center backs and wide to the wingbacks. FC Dallas looked resolute in staying with a line of four ahead of a line of five, while passes into the central midfielders were really just a chance to allow the center backs time to look up to play long.
First Half Passing Map - FC Dallas
The result was a common one in home matches for LAFC this season: buckets of shots for the home side in the first half, zero for the away side.
Couple that with LAFC's ability to get close to Dallas and react well to lost balls and it was one-way traffic up through the first 45 for LAFC. The difference between this match and the last home match being LAFC's ability to capitalize.
We Told You
Have you been listening to the Inside LAFC podcast? If you have, you would have heard Max Bretos and I sing Eduard Atuesta's praises on the last episode - it's right here, I can prove it.
I'd say he made the two of us look smart if it wasn't glaringly obvious just how good he's been this season. And it was his incisive pass that sliced open FC Dallas to put LAFC ahead in this one:
That assist is so good on so many levels. It's inch-perfect. It's perfectly weighted even in such a tight space. And Atuesta does such a good job of selling that he's simply switching the point of the attack before going right for the heart of the Dallas defense.
We told you to watch him. We weren't wrong.
Credit to FC Dallas, they managed a bit of fight to start the second half.
From the onset of the second 45, LAFC looked a bit slow to the ball. Dallas raised the tempo and controlled much of the ball, forcing LAFC back on its heels. It was truly nervy there for a bit.
But on the bright side, LAFC showed its ability to weather the storm a bit. A lot of talk has been about how well LAFC press/counterpress and play on the front foot but we haven't seen the side defend deep for long periods. Dallas created chances, and even put LAFC under duress, but they were unable to find a single shot on target.
Another Round Of Applause For The Defense
That's three shutouts on the bounce for LAFC. The league's best defense has given up just eight goals all season and is averaging .62 goals-against per match this season.
Last week, I wrote about that record-setting pace and why LAFC's defending is really a front-to-back effort. But I wanted to give one example of what's demanded from LAFC defenders in Bob Bradley's system and why it's as amazing to watch sometimes as a tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon:
No side in MLS plays a higher line than LAFC and askes its defenders to be as comfortable in 1v1 situations. This play actually begins at midfield - in fact, Eddie Segura is beyond the halfway line when FC Dallas start the counterattack. In a 2v1 situation and with defenders running to cover nearly the half the pitch in behind, you'd give all the advantage to the attackers. But Zimmerman engages the ball carrier immediately and keeps his feet moving to be able to quickly cover the pass. Once Segura arrives to help, Zimmerman flips his hips and powers towards the open man as the pass goes out that way.
Neither player makes a tackle in this play and they didn't have to. The LAFC center backs delay and throw the FC Dallas attackers off just enough. And in the end, Dallas settles for a contested shot.
That's the type of difficult defending LAFC is asked to do at times in high-leverage moments. The score was 1-0 at that moment. Once again, LAFC shows is just as capable of making the big plays on defense as it is on offense.
Back To Vela
You knew I had to bring it full circle.
Carlos Vela finished his second match in a row with a goal and assist. He once again leads the league in goals and assists in 2019 - 13 goals and seven assists.
Now that we know he'll be sticking with LAFC this summer, the rest of MLS has to be terrified. He's on pace to break both Josef Martinez's single-season goals record and Sebastian Giovinco's single-season combined goals and assists record - which to me is the greatest MLS season of all-time.
After he opened the scoring against FC Dallas, the chants of M-V-P rang out across Banc of California Stadium. I'd usually say it's too early for stuff like that but Vela has made it no secret he covets being the league's best player.
And the way he's going, the rest of the league is playing catchup.