We learn exactly what teams are fighting for in the home stretch of the MLS season.
For LAFC's opponent on Sunday, Minnesota United are in the midst of a packed field hoping to make the playoffs. Just six points separate second from eighth in the Western Conference. The Loons currently are squarely in the middle in fifth with 42 points.
On the flipside, LAFC knows its place in the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is already secure. As the Black & Gold push for a Supporters' Shield and a historic season, the first step is claiming the Western Conference. Come Sunday's end, LAFC would do just that with three points against Minnesota.
Here are the Toyota Keys to the Match for LAFC vs. Minnesota United:
High Tempo, High Intensity
Points are hard to come by this time of the year. With just seven matches remaining, teams are bearing down to grind out every match.
For LAFC, being comfortable just making the playoffs is not enough. The Black & Gold have to maintain focus on loftier goals through this last stretch. As teams fight for their playoff lives, LAFC has to be on its game from the opening whistle. Minnesota United will fight for every ball and try to make the match difficult for LAFC.
Bob Bradley's team has to be prepared for a team willing to do whatever it takes. The best way to match that is with an intensity of their own and high tempo.
Smart Out Of Possession
One way a visiting team can get a foothold in a match is through set pieces. Minnesota, in particular, has weapons they can deploy in these situations. Jan Gregus can hit a quality ball and Ike Opara and Michael Boxall terrorize teams in the air.
Keep the Loons away from 1v1s in attacking areas as much as possible through team defending. Cheap fouls in bad areas could punish LAFC. The Black & Gold need to display good footwork and not lunge into challenges.
Find Ways To Play Inside
LAFC is at its best with the ball in central areas.
Minnesota has a strong pair of center backs but they can be beaten with runs in behind. The more LAFC is able to find options with time and space in front of the backline, the higher quality chances it can create for its wide forwards breaking towards goal.
Find ways to stretch Minnesota with width and then quickly play back inside. The more opportunities LAFC can create with its midfielders' heads up and options ahead of them, the more pressure the Loons will face. Those opportunities are bound to lead to quality chances to affect the scoreline on Sunday.