One of the most difficult tasks in sports is maintaining focus. Over the course of a long season, numerous distractions can wedge between a team's mentality and its goals.
While winning a trophy is the best kind of "distraction," it can, nonetheless, disrupt a side that still has work to do.
LAFC travels to Minnesota this weekend with the Supporters' Shield in hand and two matches remaining in the 2019 MLS regular season. With the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference also already clinched, the Black & Gold have to approach this match with the same urgency they have the previous 30. And if they need any more motivation, there are individual and team records on offer before season's end.
Here are the Toyota Keys to the Match for LAFC's penultimate match of the 2019 season:
Back To Work
After capturing the Supporters' Shield, there was little talk of the next match. Bob Bradley gave his side a chance to bask in its accomplishment. The first trophy in Club history, one earned over the course of a grueling seven-month season, deserved a moment of celebration.
After the celebration was a day off to recover and then it was back to work for LAFC ahead of the Minnesota match. And that's the way the Black & Gold should approach this challenge.
The Supporters' Shield is Black & Gold. No one can take that away this season. But now LAFC has a chance to do something truly special. The players have to want more. So, after the celebrations, that hunger to always improve and to try to produce good football has to return. If LAFC can maintain that mindset through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, everything else should fall into place.
Move The Ball
The last time out against Minnesota United, LAFC had trouble getting into dangerous areas.
Adrian Heath's team was disciplined. The Loons clogged central areas and refused to be drawn out.
LAFC has to make Minnesota uncomfortable by moving the ball with tempo. Be decisive with the number of touches and get the ball away quickly to the next player. Moving from congested areas to the next open man will force the Loons to vary shape. It's in those moments that LAFC can exploit dangerous areas. But it all starts with moving the ball quickly and together with decisive intent.
Get Close Even With The Ball
Assuming LAFC will see as much of the ball as they did in the last content, the Black & Gold needs to be prepared to win the ball back quickly when they lose it.
To counter LAFC, Minnesota will likely be in a compact, low block and will be disciplined in their positioning. Players off the ball have to recognize instances when teammates might attempt passes or movements that could break down. In those moments, you have to read the play and get close to Minnesota players off the ball in an effort to immediately close off options and win the ball back quickly.
Sometimes, when the opposition is entrenched, it's not about what you do with the ball initially but how you react when moves break down. If LAFC can pen Minnesota in and react to broken plays and loose balls quicker than the Loons, they'll create chances in the ensuing moments of confusion. But to do that, players have to know when to run off their teammates and when it might be a moment they should prepare to react to a loose ball.