Somewhat hard to believe it had been almost 21 years since Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena last coached against one another. Not to mention, nearly 800 matches coached between the two in MLS and they'd only faced one another three times before.
The last time, the year was 1998. Bradley was at the helm of the expansion Chicago Fire - Bob sure does have a knack for getting teams off the ground quickly. Arena led the then two-time champion D.C United. The MLS Cup was on the line. And as history would have it, the match was in LA... the Rose Bowl to be exact.
Back in '98, Bradley got the best of his counterpart with a 2-0 victory. Fast forward two decades later, another 2-0 scoreline and another win for Bradley.
Of course, the fourth meeting between the two titans of MLS and U.S. Soccer wasn't for silverware - although LAFC did bring an end to New England's club-record 11-match unbeaten run. But if there is a fifth meeting to come this season, it can only come with the MLS Cup on the line once again. And the way Bradley and Arena have their sides playing as of late, you could imagine stranger things happening.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 2-0 win in New England:
Did He Mean It?
Diego Rossi isn't your run-of-the-mill striker. And I'm not saying that because he has pace for days, a knack for getting an angle on defenders, and has scored in five of his last six matches. No, I say that because he wouldn't claim he meant to do this:
Rossi came clean right after the match. It was a cross. Most strikers I know would take that to the grave.
Either way, the goal goes in the Uruguayan's account. It wasn't the only reason he was special against the Revs. Rossi was a constant threat down the left side on Saturday night. With Carles Gil apt to float around the pitch from New England's right, Revs right Brandon Bye had a difficult time getting forward on the night as Rossi made his intentions to get behind known early and often.
Going into the match, I singled out this battle as a potential key for LAFC. Rossi did his part by not only getting an early goal but being dangerous until he was subbed off in the 85th minute.
Had Teal Bunbury been a little more alert in the 50th minute, Gustavo Bou might have gotten his own name on the scoresheet.
Bou was as good as billed. The Revs Designated Player was full of guile with little flicks and touches in tight areas around the heart of the LAFC defense.
Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura struggled to get close to the playmaker early in the match. The Revs made no bones about bypassing the midfield to find Bou early and often. With the LAFC midfield struggling to find control, it was an effective strategy. But team defending and a bit of luck kept Bou in check.
Nevertheless, Bou caused problems every time he touched the ball. Even when he lost the ball in 1v1 situations, he did it in areas that put LAFC's goal under pressure. A good performance by the Argentine in just his fourth MLS match.
A Bit Of A Stretch
The start of each half was the stuff that drives coaches wild. Both teams were stretched. Opportunities came fast and heavy. And there was little control of the match by either side.
That's usually a bad recipe for LAFC. With the match divulging into an exchange of attacks in transition, it looked like New England was going to make the Black & Gold pay. But little by little, LAFC's midfield wrestled control away.
The midfield trio of Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Eduard Atuesta found ways to combine and move LAFC up the pitch with controlled passes between them. Adama Diomande was also pivotal as an outlet coming off the backline. By making himself available as the extra pass, LAFC players always seemed to have a solution when a New England player challenged them.
That level of control allowed LAFC's backline to push up as well. LAFC's offensive marking started to come into play. Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey anticipated loose ball after loose ball. Even when the Black & Gold lost the ball outright, the compact shape kept the Revs bottled up and they couldn't get out of their own half with any modicum of control for a solid 15 minutes.
Those 15 minutes proved the difference in the match. LAFC extended the lead to 2-0 and New England wasn't able to put the match on their terms again.
Patience Is A Virtue
Latif Blessing's goal in the 72nd minute was a thing of beauty:
Where do we start?
First off, no one is cooler in front of goal than Latif here. He had me screaming. But why rush I guess when you can make guys fly this way and that before tucking the ball neatly into the side of the net.
The spacing of LAFC in the Revolution half is nearly perfect. Every LAFC player has different options. The front three were fluid, dropping off their marks and facing up the backline frequently. LAFC moved the ball quickly and precisely, forcing the New England defenders to commit and leave dangerous openings.
Finally, the clip doesn't totally do it justice. This was a team goal to the extreme.
Moments before the highlight above starts, LAFC had an opportunity but the window closed abruptly, instead of force it, they backed out and moved the ball around patiently waiting for another opening. The recognition to recycle play and wait for the next window to open is an indicator of a team in total control. To do that on the road against a team flying like New England puts just a little bit more shine on a great goal.
Keeping It Clean
Before Saturday night in New England, LAFC had failed to hold a clean sheet in nine matches. The Black & Gold managed six wins over that span but Bob Bradley and his players made a point of emphasizing the need to clamp down once again after conceding three goals in back-to-back matches.
It wasn't easy but Jordan Harvey, Eddie Segura, Walker Zimmerman, and Steven Beitashour did just enough. They fought through tough challenges, got a toe in at opportune times, and dealt well with tough bounces on a difficult surface. While Tyler Miller made just one save but was excellent with his collections of crosses and aggressiveness dealing with through balls - Miller was also great organizing his backline and distributing the ball on the night.
LAFC came into this match with the fewest goals conceded in MLS but were trending the wrong way in regard to the number of opportunities they were giving up to opponents. Tonight's performance was a step back in the right direction to when LAFC posted six shutouts in its first 13 matches.