Something sets this LAFC team apart from the rest of MLS that can't be quantified in wins, points, goals scored, and the like. Don't worry, if you like numbers though, I've got plenty of those coming your way. But what we saw against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday night was something intangible. And most teams don't have it.
LAFC never play scared. They fear no opponent. Their approach is a cavalier brand of attacking football.
But most of all, they're simply unafraid of mistakes.
Latif Blessing went from scoring a goal to give his team a 2-0 lead to having his turnover near his own goal result in the Red Bull's first tally. Three minutes later, the score was level. A minute after that, it was halftime.
Blessing's mood in the locker room during the break? About as bad as you'd imagine. Instead of screaming and yelling, Bob Bradley said he reminded Blessing and his teammates to play their football. Everyone knew NYRB was going to press. It was going to make the game fast and sometimes uncomfortable. But that didn't mean LAFC couldn't do the things they do. They just had to do them better. Do them faster.
Six minutes into the second half, moments after his team just had the go-ahead goal chalked off by VAR, Blessing got on the ball, dribbled two defenders, and nearly put his team ahead had it not been for the outstretched toe of NYRB goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Ten minutes later, almost 80 yards from his own goal, LAFC center back Eddie Segura worked a one-two with Eduard Atuesta outside the NYRB penalty area to win the penalty that put LAFC in the lead for good.
These moments don't happen in a match where you've given up a two-goal lead unless you're fearless. It's a testament to the mentality of the players. And it's a compliment to the environment the LAFC coaching staff has created that allows players to freedom to play unburdened by the fear of making a mistake.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 4-2 win over the Red Bulls:
Direct From The Start
The high pace of this match started with the opening whistle.
Both these sides have no problem going forward. While LAFC tends to do it with the ball or in transition moments, Red Bulls like to get the ball forward by any means necessary and press. The result was both teams looking to go direct but for different reasons.
LAFC saw the space over the NYRB press and behind the Red Bulls backline early and often. While the Red Bulls sent balls forward with an eye at moving the team up the pitch to smother LAFC into mistakes.
The ball spent a whole lot of time in the attacking thirds of both teams through the first 20 minutes. Control of the match eluded both though until LAFC opened the scoring via a set piece.
Good Day For A Couple Of Firsts
It makes me cringe when we only talk about defenders after they've contributed something to the scoreline.
For all the things they do that don't end up on a highlight reel and not in these my takeaways, we should be grateful. But I'd be remiss if we didn't talk about Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura scoring their first LAFC goals tonight.
Both defenders thrive on going unnoticed. Harvey puts in a shift every match, supplying support in the attack and with even-keeled defense in the back. He's often the pass before the pass that leads to the assist. And other times, he's the player that delays the attacker for a teammate nip in to regain possession. Those aren't going on any stat sheet.
Same for Segura. Do you know what he does better than maybe any center back in this league? He slides. Segura reads the game so well, he just sort of drifts into an area and then the opponent is chasing a ball there but he already has an angle on him. There's no making that sexy.
Both defenders are vital members of the squad. Finally, for those that didn't already know, both were able to point to the scoresheet to prove it.
LAFC got a couple of set-piece goals to bookend the match.
The delivery from dead-ball situations was better than we've seen it since probably the start of the season. Carlos Vela took most of the set pieces and was putting balls into areas his teammates could attack. Both Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura's goals came off a ball played towards the middle of the penalty area.
The height and pace gave LAFC players a chance to win a 1v1 battle and attack the ball. With LAFC scoring at a historic rate this season, can you just imagine if they also figure set pieces out?
Move Over Giovinco
People talk about the Golden Boot in MLS a ton. Goals win games, so it's no wonder there's a premium put on this accolade.
But Sebastian Giovinco's mark of 38 (22 G, 16 A) combined goals and assists in 2015 should be the true mark of excellence. Maybe we'll call it the "Platinum Boot."
Ok, I'm not sure MLS will be adopting my suggestion anytime soon. But whatever we're calling it, Carlos Vela is about to blow it up.
With a goal and two assists against the Red Bulls, Vela is level with Giovinco on 38 (23 G, 15 A) combined goals and assists. Giovinco did it in 33 matches back in 2015. Vela reached the mark in just 23 matches. And LAFC still has 10 matches remaining this season.
A 20g/20a season seems inevitable at this point. Only two players in MLS history have 20-assist seasons to their names - Carlos Valderama (2000) and Sacha Kljestan (2016). Only one player has ever reached the 30-goal mark in a season - Josef Martinez (2018).
Crazy to think we might see Vela hit both marks with a 30g/20a season.
Started with intangibles, might as well wrap this up with even more numbers. This is for all you statheads out there:
- LAFC now has 17 wins on the season and 10 wins at home. Both are one better than they had last season.
- LAFC's +40 goal differential is better than all of the Western Conference teams COMBINED. It's just one short of the combined total of all the Eastern Conference teams.
- LAFC has a 16-point gap at the top of the Western Conference. The gap between second in the West and all the remaining teams - all the way down to 12th in the conference - is 14 points.