I hope Luke won't mind, but I saw this tweet the day before LAFC's match with the Montreal Impact and it stuck with me:
As a gay man who also loves the beautiful game, I cannot tell you guys enough how much it means to me that MLS and LAFC, specifically, embrace me and my husband in this community. I grew up hating sports because I always felt unwelcome. But LAFC is changing that 100%— Luke Klipp (@lukehklipp) May 23, 2019
Friday night was Pride Night at Banc of California Stadium. For those that don't know, June is Pride Month. Because LAFC is without a home match next month, we celebrated early.
But this tweet just got to me.
Look, we're not perfect at LAFC. A chant nearly ruined it all for us. Twice!
You know the chant I'm talking about. And yes, it was embarrassing, hurtful, and disappointing on both occasions. I can still remember being in the press box and hanging my head. Of course, I hadn't participated. But I felt complicit.
What happened next though was surprising and encouraging.
LAFC's leadership acted quickly. Their first order of business both times was to listen. Listen to those that the chant hurt the most. Hear the voices of the people that felt marginalized. And then act on what they learned.
One night, one PSA prior to matches, or one speech won't fix everything. But hopefully, it opens the door for fans like Luke that felt left out. Hopefully, it lets them know that LAFC and Banc of California Stadium are places they can feel welcomed and a part of the city they call home.
When they see this tifo, they'll know they're voices are needed to make the place rock:
And hopefully, they know, as Bob Bradley put it so simply in his postmatch press conference, "we love them."
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 4-2 win over the Montreal Impact:
Montreal Wasn't All Bus, But They Were Resolute
The Impact has been unabashed in its compact nature this season.
Remi Garde's team has made a habit of enticing teams forward and then hitting them on the counter. And it's been impressive, especially considering they've played 10 of 14 matches on the road and been without their best player Ignacio Piatti for over two months, but still managed to come into Friday in third place in the Eastern Conference.
To start the match, Montreal set up higher than past visitors to Banc of California Stadium and even created the first few looks of the match.
That didn't mean they we totally open though. The Impact kept the lines between the defense and midfield tight. They looked to deny LAFC access to the center of the field with a 4-5-1 structure. And despite an opportunistic goal from Christian Ramirez in the 7th minute, they remained fairly compact, forcing LAFC to probe in order to find any end roads to goal with the ball at their feet.
Harvey Unlocks Montreal
Jordan Harvey didn't have a goal or an assist in this match. The defender didn't have so much as a shot on target. But he was pivotal to LAFC's unlocking of the Montreal defense.
When you say a team wants width in a match, what are you really saying? All teams look for some kind of width, some to send crosses and others for spacing. LAFC is firmly in the second camp.
With Montreal resolute on having three midfielders packed tightly in front of the back line, Harvey combined often with Diego Rossi wide to the left to lure the Impact. Finding the likes of Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing in the half spaces on that side, and with Carlos Vela lurking wide right, LAFC forced Montreal to defend from touchline to touchline. While the Impact kept their lines tight vertically, avenues began to appear between defenders from side to side.
And it eventually led to LAFC breaking the match wide open.
Atuesta Splits The Defense
Calling this pass "incisive" doesn't begin to do it justice.
LAFC filled all the spaces to perfection leading up to this goal. Look wide to either side and you see LAFC players forcing defenders to contend with them. Christan Ramirez and Tristan Blackmon hold the right back's attention, while the left back has Diego Rossi and Jordan Harvey inching towards him. All the while, Carlos Vela is making sure he's just splitting the center backs.
Two things make this pass. First, Eduard Atuesta takes his touch inside to keep options open across the pitch. If he defers to the path of least resistance to the right with the Montreal player closing him in midfield, he's basically cut himself off from half of the field. Second, Latif Blessing's positioning between the lines forces the Montreal center back to take on step closer to him.
Little did the defender know at the time, that one step spelled his doom.
Atuesta sees the center back commit, threads a pass to Vela, and the LAFC captain finishes his 15th goal in 15 matches and fourth in four consecutive matches.
Go On, Tristan
Have yourself a game, Tristan Blackmon.
The LAFC defender was handed an opportunity with the absence of Steven Beitashour due to injury and he drew high praise from his head coach afterward:
"Let me mention Tristian Blackmon because tonight was an important night for him," Bob Bradley said postmatch. "Tristan's got talent, we know it and that's why we keep trying and trying. And yet, we've not been able to get him to really just play without any fear, to play and make plays and just go for it. ... Tonight, Tristan played more like that. That was awesome. So I was happy for him."
Blackmon hasn't always had the best go of it since being drafted No. 3 overall by LAFC last season. He's bounced between right back and center back, gone on loan on occasion, and been inserted into the team at times when there are a few other changes and he's probably up against it. Tonight, when he got a chance with the first choice lineup, he stepped up and even got a goal.
This play though, which isn't in the box score for him, is a pretty good example of what Bradley was talking about. Latif Blessing is going to score here, but notice the first moment in this play:
That's a confident Blackmon running 12 yards past midfield to break up a slack pass between two Montreal players. If you could go back a second before this, Blackmon is actually back peddling before noticing the bad pass. In prior matches, he probably would have continued back and dealt with the ensuing Impact attack. But today, he was fearless. And it paid off.
With Beitashour's return unknown, Blackmon has earned himself another chance in this LAFC team.
A Short Lapse
This match shouldn't have ended 4-2.
LAFC lost their way for a bit in the second half. By a bit, I mean they gave up as many second-half goals to Montreal as they had in all 14 of their previous matches.
Bob Bradley wasn't happy about it. Carlos Vela wasn't either. When you consider LAFC's troubles late in matches last season, its the last thing either of them wants to see.
Maybe it's a pre-emptive warning. Or a reminder they haven't won anything yet.
There's been a lot of accolades heaped on this team in 2019. But lapses like that can spell disaster. Luckily, LAFC had made the most of its chances to put the match away. But you can bet this is just more fodder for Bradley to keep them focused in the weeks to come.