A show of hands, please. Who had LAFC winning after the first 25 minutes in Houston?
It's ok. You're not alone.
After a goal in the third minute, the Dynamo looked primed to run the Black & Gold off the pitch. Those nine changes from the Portland match less than 48 hours prior, while necessary, had LAFC stumbling to keep pace with Houston. It didn't seem like a matter of if but by how much.
Alberth Elis probably wasn't thinking exactly that in the 26th minute when he had a chance to double the lead. With a gaping net, he probably wasn't thinking about Mohamed El-Munir, either.
Luckily, the LAFC defender had other ideas.
Things didn't instantly turn around from there. But it was a start. When you're up against it, sometimes it's the moment of defiance in the face of the inevitable that gives your side that little bit of a foothold. If LAFC were hanging on a ledge by their pinkie, it was El-Munir that gave them a hand with this moment.
LAFC went on to score just before the halftime interval via an Adama Diomande header. And in the second half, they were a completely different team, controlling the match and finishing off the Dynamo 3-1.
Considering the last 48 hours LAFC just had, this might be the gutsiest performance of 2019.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 3-1 win in Houston:
Turn and face the strange.
Bob Bradley said to expect them. But this starting 11 wasn't close to anything we've seen before from LAFC. Only Mark-Anthony Kaye and Steven Beitashour remained from the team that took on Portland.
"Shook" might be an understatement for how they looked early. Houston found a goal before most of the team had touched the ball. And the passing was all over the place. They settled into a bit of a groove when they were able to possess the ball and move up as a unit. But the Dynamo were still licking their lips with the number of big chances on offer.
Much of LAFC's pain came from one thing: no pressure on the ball.
Houston has some horses up front. If you let Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas, and Romell Quito run wild on a backline with no pressure on the ball, they are going to beat you. And that's exactly what the Dynamo did.
LAFC couldn't get close to the ballcarrier on numerous occasions and all it took was a ball into space for the likes of Elis to muscle past a defender and go at goal.
Bradley Gets His Subs Spot On
Lucky to be even at halftime, Bob Bradley brought on Latif Blessing out of the break. The Game Changer did exactly what you'd expect.
With Blessing in the match, LAFC's midfield got pressure on the ball from the start of the half. Blessing's three tackles and two recoveries helped LAFC control Houston's easy entries into the Black & Gold's half. And his ability to hold possession allowed Mark-Anthony Kaye and Lee Nguyen to advance into spots to dictate play in dangerous areas between the lines.
The second sub, Diego Rossi gave LAFC a vertical threat down the left side. His ability on the dribble allowed LAFC to get forward almost at will. Rossi was the out ball on so many occasions and was dangerous nearly every time he approached Houston's penalty area.
Probably Lee Nguyen's best match of the season.
Like the rest of the squad, he was a bit lost throughout the first half. Slowly but surely though, as LAFC gained a bit of traction in midfield, Nguyen took over.
His dime to Dio for the first goal got LAFC back in the match. And then the composure in a tight space to look off the defender and set up Dio once more five minutes into the second half was the Nguyen we remember from last year.
When Nguyen is finding those pockets of space in the middle of the pitch, doing work from half space to half space and playing with tempo, he's the catalyst LAFC needs to unlock defenses. LAFC will need him in that kind of form in the second half of the season.
Dio At The Double
Adama Diomande now has three goals in his last two MLS matches.
The match against Houston was the striker's first 90-minute performance of 2019.
When he finished that half chance in first-half stoppage time, it gave LAFC hope. He struck quickly in the second half and then remained a threat throughout the match.
His ability to find spots to get touches across the backline kept Houston guessing in the second half. Bob Bradley stresses this over and over with his front three. He wants them to be fluid. Don't always stand in the same spot. And don't wait for the match to come to you, be involved.
After his goal to level the match, Dio was active and he was involved all across the final third. Like Nguyen, it was his best performance of the year and it was in a tough spot. Going 90 minutes for the first time in those conditions isn't easy.
But if Dio can play like that with the likes of Carlos Vela out there, he'll find himself going 90 much more often.
BONUS TAKEAWAY: Vela Rested
Carlos Vela got a well-earned rest in Houston.
Despite not playing, the LAFC captain was engaged in the match even from the sidelines.
I'll leave you with this. Look over Bob's shoulder. That's not a new assistant coach. It's Carlos Vela giving instructions to teammates in the last 10 minutes of the match.