A good point on the road.
That's a phrase that scarcely exists in LAFC's vocabulary. Not because they've struggled on the road this season. Actually, the exact opposite - LAFC's 28 points on the road this season is better than FC Cincinnati and Vancouver's totals at home and away. Simply put, LAFC expects three points on the road, at home, and probably even in a match on Mars.
So, after the 2-2 draw in Orlando, Bob Bradley wasn't happy. The players didn't seem all that happy. You probably weren't happy.
But all things considered, maybe we should be?
Ok, hear me out.
Totally understand why Bradley isn't happy. His team started well. LAFC even took the lead. But only to concede off the ensuing kickoff. And then seven minutes later, LAFC was behind by a goal. That should make the players upset as well.
I've seen Bob upset after wins though, too. It's not his job to be satisfied. I get that. Which is why even in some of the blowout victories this season, one of the first topics of conversation afterward is some of the little things he'd like to see done better. After all, he's the one that has to prepare the team to do it all over again in the following match.
But while it wasn't perfect, it's a come-from-behind draw... with seven players away on international duty... despite traveling to the East Coast... with Carlos Vela still on the mend... and just 13 field players dressed for the match. So at the very least, call me content after this one.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 2-2 draw at Orlando City:
The takeaways are always a good place to celebrate firsts.
In his first MLS start, Adrien Perez scored his first MLS goal. Not bad for a player that wasn't wearing cleats this time last season.
Perez has been a goal scorer at every level. He starred in high school and college. And when he went unnoticed by MLS sides, he went right along scoring in the Major Arena Soccer League
He's not your average rookie, having had professional experience with the Ontario Fury the past two seasons. That's afforded him the type of work ethic and mentality you don't normally see with squad players. Perez understands his role and goes about working hard every day in training.
After a few opportunities early in the season, Perez had been in and out of the 18 the past couple of months. But when called upon, his professionalism paid off. He may have gotten a bit lucky in the way the ball bounced to him in the penalty area but he took his opportunity and supplied more than just that one shot. He nearly scored just moments before but angled his touch around the Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe just a bit wider than he would have liked. And he was dangerous in transition on the right side of LAFC's attack.
Very solid first start for Perez and deserved result in scoring his first goal.
Mistakes Compound On Bad Luck
You simply can't concede off the ensuing kickoff after going up a goal on the road. You just can't.
Sure, there's a bit of luck that breaks the wrong way - a tip from the boot of Latif Blessing steers the ball right into Nani's path. But why was Nani allowed to run right down Broadway in the first place? Someone has to touch him somewhere along the way. Simply put a hand on him, slow him down even the slightest.
It's a veteran move. And Tristan Blackmonis still learning as a center back. But as Nani runs, even as Blackmon has to readjust to the tip coming from Blessing, you've got to be in contact with Nani - put a hand on his chest, push him off stride even slightly. He can't have a free run like that and the defender has to initiate that contact.
The second goal was similar in its passivity. Orlando City works the ball into a good area, and the runs are there, but it's not done at a particularly high speed or under pressure. LAFC players drop off a little too much in that instance, thinking they're in a good spot. But that close to your own goal, you've got to get tight.
Those two moments are obvious blemishes on what was generally a decent half. Those are the type of letdowns LAFC can't afford at this stage in the season and in the playoffs.
I wrote about LAFC's set pieces after the Galaxy match. In that one, I noticed the impetus to take corners quickly in order to keep Zlatan Ibrahimović from getting back in time to help out. Against Orlando City, there was more creativity.
During the week, Bob Bradley mentioned the size of Orlando City's defense. With the height of Walker Zimmerman and Mark-Anthony Kaye missing, it would have been futile to hit routine corners at Orlando. What Bob Bradley and his staff came up with via short corners was dangerous on numerous occasions. A well-worked play led to the opening goal. We even saw a nice routine off a free kick that nearly sprung Diego Rossi.
As I mentioned in those Galaxy takeaways, LAFC has been flying when it comes to scoring goals this season. But there's still an edge they can be gained from set pieces. With fewer numbers in training this past week, maybe it was a perfect time to work on more of those routines. Whatever they are doing, becoming dangerous on set pieces can be a handy weapon come playoff time.
Rossi Works Inside
We know Diego Rossi can burn defenses over the top. We know he can get an edge on an opponent and make them pay. And we know he can be deadly in front of net.
But some of what Rossi was lacking over this last stretch was exactly what he did to level the score tonight.
Rossi's goal was all about finding a way inside the defense.
Countless times, Rossi had tried to go around the outside of his defender to create advantages in this match. In this instance, he works inside to Adama Diomande and continues his run through a crowded area.
Knowing when to link with teammates inside and attack central areas are two of the most difficult things for wide attackers to come to grips. But as Rossi runs laterally across the Orlando backline and at pace, he forces numerous decisions from the defense. In an instant, multiple defenders have to decide to stay with Rossi or hand him off to a teammate. That kind of chaos creates a window either to Rossi or in the space vacated by the defender that goes with him.
Also, credit to Diomande for dropping off the backline as Rossi looks to work inside. Diomande freezes the Orlando center backs and they can't make up that gap in time. And the pass is perfect. It's firm enough to freeze the defense but soft enough to not take Rossi too far wide of the goal.
From there, Rossi does the rest to score his 15th goal of the season - already three better than he had all of last season.
Change The Players, Change The Formation, Keep The Ideas
Bob Bradley had to work with what he had onhand this week.
With seven players away with their national teams and Carlos Vela still training off to the side, LAFC had just 13 field players to choose from this week. Rotation was inevitable. We even saw some players in different roles and a bit of a formation change.
To start the match, Diego Rossi was listed as a midfielder in a 4-3-3. It was really more of a 4-2-3-1 with Rossi underneath Adama Diomande and Lee Nguyen and Latif Blessing tasked with holding the midfield in a band of two. As a No. 10 with the license to float across the attacking line, Rossi found a lot fo the spaces he likes to work in occupied. It wasn't until Bradley mixed things up again that the Uruguayan really got going in the match.
Early in the second half, Bradley brought on Danilo Silva for Adrien Perez. The move paired Silva with Tristan Blackmon in the center of defense and pushed Eddie Segura into a defensive midfield role. As a linchpin in midfield, Segura gave Nguyen and Blessing license to start higher up the pitch, roles they are more accustomed to. Rossi moved to his usual wide attacker role and found it much easier to get behind the Orlando defense.
While that's all interesting for the tactics/formations nerds, what should be pointed out is how LAFC looked cohesive through all the changes. And that's the bigger picture that comes down to the football ideas Bradley talks about each week.
Every week, we gather around Bradley and reporters will ask what needs to change or what the team has to do differently to stay on top. And every week, Bradley smirks and unironically says they need to keep doing the same things... only better. And while that doesn't make for the most compelling copy in my line of work, I can't stress enough how that is exactly what has made this team what it is this season.
For all the changes in this match. And through all the adversity a season can hold. With teams constantly employing different approaches against them, LAFC's players know exactly what they are about and what they need to accomplish on the pitch. They believe in their style of play and work to carry out the principles to perfection.
That's what the best teams in the world do. They impose their style on opponents and they execute on the scoresheet. They don't change. They force the opponent to change.
And on top of that when new players have to come into the side or someone is injured, everyone is on the same page. The names on the back of the jerseys change but the big picture on the pitch doesn't change.
That's probably the biggest takeaway from Orlando.