It's now or never.
A season of near perfection has brought LAFC to this moment. After all the accolades and all the records, a season now hangs in the balance of 90-plus minutes against a rival. The road to MLS Cup goes through Los Angeles and the first challenger isn't from too far away.
This match needs no introduction. So, let's get right into the Toyota Keys to the Match between LAFC and Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinal:
Outside Backs Become Central
If we piece together what the Galaxy have attempted over the course of two matches with LAFC and one playoff match, you see a team adamant on clogging the center of the pitch.
Against Minnesota, the Galaxy started four center backs across a four-man backline. They've used three and at times four center backs against LAFC in the past and asked the midfielders and wingers to constrict space from the channels inwards. That leaves a lot of room near either touchline. Room for LAFC's outside backs to work.
The outside backs will need to provide support in possession and be an outlet when things get mucked up in the center of the pitch. But LAFC can't be content with keeping the ball wide all game. They'll need to be smart in looking for passes inside and moments to get around the edge of the Galaxy backline. The outside backs will also have to be alert to moments when teammates take risks and the ball turns over. The decisions to step or drop to cover space might be one of the most important aspects of this match.
Don't Force It
Last time out, the Galaxy ran out to a 2-0 lead against LAFC less than 20 minutes into the match. Credit the Galaxy for some nice finishing and the ability to strike quickly but much of the damage was self-inflicted.
Over the course of that match, LAFC settled down and found a rhythm. Instead of forcing passes into congested areas, the Black & Gold were measured and patient. Making the Galaxy chase, LAFC found the extra pass time and time again and exhausted their rivals.
Despite this being a knockout match and emotions at a peak, LAFC should be patient with the ball. The Galaxy will be on the prowl for mistakes and opportunities to attack an unbalanced LAFC. Don't gift those opportunities by forcing the ball into areas when an extra pass might open bigger windows.
Need At Least One
It's the time of year where mistakes are magnified and one big play could carry the day.
With LAFC looking to be proactive and take the match to the Galaxy, there's a high likelihood that one golden opportunity will fall to the opponent. At that moment, whether its the first minute or the 90th minute, LAFC needs someone to step up. And that someone is probably going to be a goalkeeper.
One big save could turn the tide of this game in LAFC's favor. You don't want to have to count on it but when the moment arrives, you simply have to have it.