Tonight was a collector's item. I'm only half-joking.
LAFC's 2-0 defeat to Minnesota United on Sunday was the first regular-season home loss of 2019, and that wasn't the only rarity on display. Again, not necessarily the type you want to keep. But in a way, they serve as the exception that proves the rule of just how good LAFC has been since it joined MLS.
The two-goal defeat was LAFC's first multi-goal loss in nearly a year - LAFC hadn't lost by more than a goal since Sept. 29 of 2018 at Chicago. Sunday's loss was only the second time in Club history LAFC lost and failed to score at home in a regular-season match - the last time being the first home loss in Club history against Sporting KC back on Aug. 11, 2018. And interestingly enough, Ike Opara is the only player in MLS history to have defeated LAFC at Banc of California Stadium twice in his career - he played on the previously referred to SKC team in 2018. (A hat tip to MLSsoccer.com's Alex Dwyer for that nugget)
So what does it all mean a team still on pace to set the single-season marks for points, wins, and possibly goals scored? Well, unfortunately, it means the capture of the Western Conference's top spot, and by extension Concacaf Champions League football next season, will have to wait. Although three points will secure that spot next week or even the week after. That's just how far ahead of the pack LAFC is.
But it also means LAFC can get better. When teams try to disrupt them by playing in a low block and searching for anything on the counter, the Black & Gold can still improve. When the margins are slim and space is at a premium, there is still a bit of sharpness that can be applied. And if the team heeds that lesson through the end of the MLS season, they might just look back on this loss as significant after all.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 2-0 loss to Minnesota United:
All On The Table
Sometimes you get teams that come into Banc of California Stadium and they play coy in their intentions. And then, there is Minnesota on Sunday.
Once the line-ups were released, you knew the script. The Loons fielded three center backs and three defensive midfielders. Adrian Heath then threw Mason Toye and Darwin Quintero up top. The intention was a smash and grab all along and LAFC knew it.
But sometimes that works in football.
Minnesota defended deep and they defended well. And Toye and Quintero battled for every long ball and every second ball after that. Eventually, they got opportunities. And they took full advantage.
Squeeze The Lines
With three center backs and three defensive midfielders, what Minnesota did better than anything was squeeze the space between their backline and the midfield. And by sitting deep, they squeezed the space behind as well.
Basically, LAFC battered into a wall of six players backed up to the Minnesota penalty. All the space to play in front of the Loons was too deep and crowded for any kind of long-distance opportunity and you couldn't play through them because attacking players couldn't find any depth in their lines. So LAFC tried to go around the corner using width. Minnesota was willing to take that tradeoff as they had the three center backs doing a great job of sweeping away cross after cross.
The only way to really beat something like that was through tempo. Make defenders move to the ball quickly in dangerous areas before moving it along to the next man to open up further penetration towards goal. LAFC's tempo was decent early but by the second half, they'd spent so much energy without reward that they looked cumbersome. More crosses came in. There were fewer runs forward to open space. The Loons simply continued to sit deep, and with a two-goal lead, they knew they had some margin for error.
Nice Goals Though
You hate to say it. But man, those goals were more than decent.
Mason Toye was recently called into the U.S. Men's National Team. You know he's got to be feeling himself a bit.
Look at his second goal. One touch, two touches... and then bang. That's a left-footed blast from 30-yards out.
Maybe you don't hit that if you hadn't already scored the acute-angle goal he produced to open the scoring. But that's some kind of confidence from the 20-year-old.
Make no mistake, this was still your "park the bus" type performance from Minnesota but you definitely don't feel cheated on the goals they scored.
Stating The Obvious
Look, I'm not going to begrudge anyone for saying it. But c'mon.
Did LAFC miss Carlos Vela? Of course, they did. He's factored into 42 of LAFC's 74 goals this season. He's the league's MVP in waiting. So you can say it, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing.
In matches like this, you sometimes need that little something extra. Sometimes it's luck. Sometimes it's the brilliance of a star player. That's not to say LAFC didn't have matchwinners out there on the night. The sharpness just wasn't there. But it came down to the little things, not something systemic
Brian Rodríguez's night was a pretty good example of this. The young Designated Player went 45 minutes in his first start - after the match, Bob Bradley said the plan was always to give Rodríguez between 45-60 minutes on the night. In that time, he had flashes. He beat his man on the outside a couple of times but then picked out the wrong pass. Sometimes he played one touch when he should have taken the ball and other times he dribbled when he should have passed. These were minute details but when the space is compressed, it adds up. And he wasn't the only player on the night guilty of it.
Eddie Segura's a good example on the other side of the ball. He made countless recoveries and good decisions while playing a high line and being asked to defend 1v1 all night. He decides to lunge to cut out a Jan Gregus pass to Mason Toye and misses. Toye still has a lot of work to do, as the pass takes him well wide of the goal and near the end line, but he finishes from a tight angle. It's that close sometimes. Maybe Segura doesn't go to ground another time but it's that close sometimes.
But again, he'll learn. And I'm sure the team will have plenty to go over in their video sessions next week.
90 Minutes And More
I love this tweet from James - he knows a thing or two about football, give him a follow if you're into football analytics.
one abiding memory of this is Vancouver scoring to go 1-0 up and the 3252 didn't even react, just kept chanting, didn't miss a beat. It completely threw me for a minute, cos I figured it must have been ruled out, then LAFC brought the ball up the pitch and kicked off.— James Yorke (@jair1970) August 23, 2019
It's one of the things you don't see in American sports. The energy a home crowd gives its team is usually performance-based.
Tonight was another example of why you can't beat the 3252.
They didn't let up the entire match. Mason Toye scored in the 25th minute, they got louder. He scored again in the 29th minute, more of the same.
What was really a sight to see though was after the final whistle... they got louder. The chants, the drumming, and the jumping continued well past 90 minutes.
You're not going to find that at any other stadium in the U.S., let alone in Los Angeles.