Despite not playing in midweek, Wednesday was a historic night for LAFC. By way of Minnesota United's loss in Houston, the Black & Gold secured the top spot in the Western Conference in 2019.
Officially the "Best in the West," LAFC now has its eyes set on the Supporters' Shield. But they'll have to continue to exert dominance over the East with a win on Saturday.
In 10 matches against Eastern Conference opponents this season, LAFC is unbeaten (7-0-3). The streak will be put to the test against a Philadelphia Union side that's just three points out of the top spot in the East and coming off a stunning 3-1 win over MLS Cup holders Atlanta United.
All of MLS will have eyes on Saturday's match. Here are the Toyota Keys to the Match for LAFC at Philadelphia Union:
Breaking The Press
Jim Curtain has transformed his Philadelphia Union side over the past couple of seasons into an effective pressing side. The Union set up in a mid-block against opponents and harass teams that try to play out of the back.
Much of the Union's pressing scheme is predicated on a zone upfront and man-marking from through midfield. To break the press, LAFC needs quick and decisive passing from the back and it's midfield rotations to be sharp and timely. The back four will have to know that any time there is a slack pass or a ball into areas the Union can trap, like the touchline, your first touch will be paramount and the subsequent pass has to be perfect.
From midfield, the likes of Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Latif Blessing will need to work to create space from their marker. As they move and passes come their way, expect a Union player close behind. The subsequent movement players further up the pitch as the midfield receives passes will either make or break LAFC's escape from pressure. Players have to think one to two passes head and create angles for the receiver of passes to break the press with the next pass.
Przybyłko As A Focal Point
Kacper Przybyłko has come on strong in the second half of the season. The Polish international is a key component to the Union's offense as a focal point of the attack. Przybyłko has four goals and three assists in his last five matches.
A big presence at 6-foot-4, Przybyłko isn't simply a back-to-goal center forward. Przybyłko works hard in Philly's pressing scheme and is comfortable pulling out wide to playmark a bit.
LAFC has to aware of the Union's direct play into Przybyłko but also the space he creates. The center forward can hold up play or is adept at flicking the ball on to the path of Marco Fabín and Fafa Picault. And once he springs a teammate, his ability to get into scoring areas in the opponent's penalty area can be a big problem.
The LAFC center backs need to be disciplined in how they move with Przybyłko and how they pass him off. They can't afford huge gaps centrally but also need to be able to front the forward and disrupt his ability to get in a rhythm on the ball when the Union plays direct.
A Presence Centrally
In Jack Elliot and Mark McKenzie, Philadelphia has a center-back pairing for now and the future. Both are young but already have loads of MLS experience.
Adama Diomande needs to be active in engaging the pair. Both are strong in the air and defender well when tight to their mark. But they also have a tendency to be aggressive in challenging when forwards drop off the backline.
Bob Bradley prefers Diomande to use his moment to create space and face up the defense. When Diomande is at his best, he's able to get the ball at his feet and either run at the defense or lay off into the windows created as the center backs step to him. The more LAFC can work inside and off of Diomande, the greater the chance of getting in behind with a through ball to the wide forwards or allowing Diomande the running room to burst past the backline for a tap-in.