The 2019 Supporters' Shield is Black & Gold.
Let that sink in for just a minute.
Less than two years after kicking a ball in MLS, LAFC has its first trophy in Club history.
It's new territory for a lot of us. Quite frankly, it's a bit surreal. And as I walked the pitch congratulating players, coaches, staff, and Supporters, I was shocked each time they said congratulations and good job in return.
I'm no stranger to soaking up praise, but it felt odd. I didn't kick a single ball in competition, let alone feel the pressure this group of players endured. So when Steven Beitashour became the umpteenth person to congratulate me, I blurted out that I'd done nothing.
Now, I'm going to pretense this by saying Beita won his third Supporters' Shield with his third different team on Wednesday night. If anyone knows a thing or two about what goes into winning a Supporters' Shield, it's him.
I'm paraphrasing. But Beita responded by saying that a trophy of this magnitude, earned over the course of a long season, and through all the ups and downs that comes with it, belongs to every single person that's had a part to play in this Club. That goes for the players, the coaches, the front office, the Supporters, owners, the stadium staff, the part-time employees, the fans that watch from afar, and anyone that has stepped foot in the Banc to support the team.
Then he politely said, "So congratulations, we've earned it."
And with that, I say congratulations to all of you as well.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo:
Can we just bypass the suspense and hand Carlos Vela the MVP trophy already?
Vela had already posted the best combined goals and assists tally in MLS history. Now his team has Supporters' Shield to go with it. And he's pushed the bounds of what's possible in MLS even further with a 30 goal/15 assist season.
Only one other player in the history of MLS has scored 30 goals in a season - Vela is one away from Josef Martinez's single-season record of 31. Vela's 15 assists also put him in the Top 10 of single-season totals. It's simply never been done in MLS.
We've had great goalscorers and we've had great creators in MLS. Rarely have we had both. Vela's 2019 season stands alone as the greatest MLS regular season of all-time.
And there are still two matches to play.
Get yourself a goalkeeper that can do both!
To say Tyler Miller was attentive off his line would be an understatement tonight. There were at least three occasions by my count when the LAFC No. 1 had to close the space behind his backline and play a ball to safety.
The instance above is my favorite. Pressure from the onrushing forward? No problem. Miller takes a great angle, his first touch is into space, then it's a light flip to Mohamed El-Munir.
That kind of stuff doesn't make it on the stat sheet but those are big plays high-leverage situations.
So for five matches, you've had to read me go on and on about sticking to LAFC's style of play. Not changing, just getting better at the things LAFC does well. In those five matches, LAFC was winless.
Like the team, I probably was on tenuous ground with a lot of people. But for all of you that wanted an overhaul of how LAFC play, I want to reiterate some things.
First off, even good teams struggle and sometimes plays just don't come off - LAFC version of struggling was five matches in which they only lost once. I referenced this very topic in the takeaways from Philadelphia. Reading that the team is lacking sharpness is frustrating for a lot of people because it's not black and white. I'd counter by saying football is compelling for that very reason. But I'm adamant in saying when you've got a side that is +46 in goal differential and top of the table through 26 matches, a system change is not the right course of action.
Let me pretense this by saying, these are some core tenants of LAFC's philosophy of play - basically big picture stuff, not the "playing between the fullback and center back" type stuff. Bob Bradley wants his team to play quick passes and up the tempo when it can, use dribbling to eliminate opponents when necessary, and create advantages.
Now within those core tenants, you can have a variety of ways you attack a team. Bradley and his staff aren't regimented in the way they ask players to get after opponents, as long as they are adhering to the ideals I stated above. So you can have a moment like this:
There's recognition of body positioning and dribbling into central areas from Diego Rossi. Then Lee Nguyen receives and uses the right amount of touches before quickly exploiting a tight window to spring Carlos Vela. And a big opportunity is created.
That's a sharp bit of play with LAFC's style on display. A bit sharper and it's a goal - had the speed of the pass allowed it or had Vela taken a touch before shooting and it might be a goal.
Just prior to that, LAFC had another big opportunity building across the backline before cutting Houston up with one and two-touch passing to get behind the backline and an early low cross against the face of the goal.
Playing fast and taking the right amount of touches isn't an exact science and it isn't always easy. In fact, through about an hour of the match, the Dynamo made it really tough on LAFC. Mark-Anthony Kaye's introduction in the 58th minute allowed LAFC to interchange more in midfield, giving the midfield three a chance to rotate into areas of space and play between the lines more. That forced Houston to chase and avenues opened up.
The Dynamo came to Banc of California Stadium and played similar to the way teams have frustrated LAFC in the past. But as the Black & Gold got a feel for the match and the challenge in front of them, they gained the upper hand. During that five-match streak winless streak, it wasn't the case often enough but on Wednesday night LAFC put the right combination together.
Important Goals From Rossi
Diego Rossi has a knack for big goals. Maybe it's right place, right time. Then again, this seems a little too big to be a coincidence.
Rossi scored the first MLS goal for LAFC in Seattle. It proved to be the game-winner, securing the first three points in Club history. The Uruguayan also scored LAFC's first U.S. Open Cup goal.
After Wednesday night, you can add the goal that secured the first trophy in Club history to Rossi's list of big goals.
He might need another song soon.
Practice Makes Perfect
Two things here. First, this freekick from Eduard Atuesta was class. Severe angle, the swerve, the pace, and the placement of that shot are all exquisite.
Second, I can tell you that didn't happen by accident. This week, like he does most weeks, Atuesta was on the training pitch with Carlos Vela practicing free kicks. It gets pretty competitive out there, so I guarantee Atuesta was salivating when he lined this one up.
He's wanted to bury one of those all season. It was only LAFC's second goal from a direct freekick this season. And after Vela nailed the crossbar in the first half, no doubt that Atuesta wanted to one-up the captain.
It was the capper for a midfield maestro that has had a Best XI-caliber season.