Bob Bradley knows his counterpart this week quite well.
Bradley's friendship with Bruce Arena goes back to the early 80s. It was Arena that first brought Bradley to MLS as an assistant at D.C. United in 1996. The two won back-to-back championships in D.C. before Bradley took over the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998.
That year, Bradley and Arena went head-to-head three times - the only three times the two have faced each other in MLS prior to Saturday's match in New England. Arena got the best of the Fire in both regular-season matches but Bradley raised MLS Cup with a 2-0 victory over Arena's United team.
Silverware isn't on the line when LAFC travel to take on the New England Revolution. Bradley will want a result against his old friend regardless. LAFC looks to continue its record-setting pace as we come out of the MLS All-Star break an into the home stretch of the season. Here are the Toyota Keys to the Match for Saturday's (4:30pm PT on YouTubeTV & KVMD) New England-LAFC match:
New England is unbeaten in 11 matches and currently on a three-match winning streak.
Arena's side has scored first in each of those three matches - in the last two, they got off to early leads with goals in before the 10-minute mark of each match. Those early goals allowed the Revolution to dictate how the match played out from there. Happy to soak up pressure, New England retains its shape and looks for opportunities to poke holes in teams as they extend themselves in search of the tying goal.
Opponents that visit New England are up against it from the start, between travel and the playing conditions, Gillette Stadium isn't an easy place to play. LAFC has to be focused from the onset. Get on the ball and force New England to chase a bit. If LAFC can dictate the tempo of the match and withstand the Revolution's early pressure, they'll get opportunities to turn the tables on New England with an early goal of their own.
LAFC's last clean sheet in MLS play was way back in the middle of May - a 2-0 win at home against FC Dallas.
While the Black & Gold haven't been horrible defensively, there have been moments they've shut off for periods of matches and allowed teams to easily enter the penalty area and create chances
This team defends best from the front. LAFC needs to stay compact and step forward to pressure New England going forward. Teal Bunbury is going to do his best to split the LAFC center backs and allow Gustavo Bou the chance to create in the space just in front of the backline. Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura will need to be brave and willing to go 1v1 at times to disrupt Bou's opportunities to face up LAFC's goal and the midfield will need pressure on the ball to deny easy passes into the feet of the New England attackers.
Exploit Open Spaces
In addition to Bou, Carles Gil is New England's main hub of creativity. Gil will start on the right but prefers looks to get inside to combine on his left as often as possible.
The space left by Gil gives right back Brandon Bye license to get forward. That leaves a lot of space for the likes of Diego Rossi to work. LAFC needs to be conscious of where space is in those instances. If the Black & Gold can defend as a unit and then look for Rossi as an early ball out of pressure.
Rossi can then run at an unbalanced backline or work combinations inside to slip Carlos Vela through on the opposite side. Either way, it will force New England out of its shape and open windows for LAFC to play through in transition.