Better climb on board now. With the preseason in the rearview mirror, things are going to start happening quickly. And all the focus is going to be on moving forward.
You could feel it after the final whistle of LAFC's preseason finale. The 3-1 victory over Toronto FC was a nice end to what's been an eventful preseason. There's been big signings and big departures. Guys have been in and out of preseason camp. But now, with the whole group back together, that final whistle on Wednesday afternoon turned a page.
All roads lead to Léon now.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 3-1 win to end the 2020 preseason:
One of the things that stood out from as early as the second match in preseason was just how organized LAFC is without the ball.
Against Toronto, Bob Bradley's team was determined to stay compact and move as a unit. From above, you could see the way players positioned themselves in relation to the ball, the opposition, and their teammates. Passing lanes were constricted and LAFC made it really difficult for Toronto to find the free man in their buildouts by shifting as a team and clamping down on players when the ball was played centrally.
LAFC simply wouldn't let the opposition play through the middle of the pitch. The result was Toronto having to go direct a lot of times to get a foothold. Dejan Jaković and Jordan Harvey at the center of LAFC's backline were proactive in cutting out high balls into Jozy Altidore and the midfield was intent on cleaning up second balls.
For long sequences in the first half, it was LAFC on the ball and Toronto lacking any kind of rhythm going forward. That ability to dictate where the match was played gave LAFC the upper hand much of the day.
We had a bit of a surprise in LAFC's starting XI, as Francisco Ginella got the start in midfield. Ginella is fresh from the CONMEBOL Olympic Qualifying tournament with Uruguay and had only arrived in LA early this week - Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, and Eddie Segura are also back with the squad but didn't feature in the match.
While he was passive early in the match, Ginella was able to get up to speed with a few touches and some good recoveries. A positive aspect of his game is the way he passes and moves into space. As the deepest midfielder most times, Ginella found time on the ball to link from the back but he wasn't satisfied with simply playing a pass forward and waiting to see what came of it. The Uruguayan had some good moments linking with a teammate, stepping into the space, and then sending the return ball onto a teammate facing goal.
Those types of movements will serve him well in Bob Bradley's midfield where players are asked to be fluid with their positions and make use of space to drive the team forward.
In addition to Ginella, José Cifuentes got his first minutes of preseason.
Cifuentes returned to LAFC from the same Olympic tournament with a slight knock, so he's been taking a little more time to get up to speed. Like Ginella, he started the match as more of an observer. But he made good use of speaking to multiple teammates early on to get a sense for where he needed to be and from there we got to see a few of the things that made him one of the top players in the U20 World Cup.
Once he got into the flow of the match, Cifuentes' quickness was on display. The reactions he displayed helped LAFC out in a couple of instances. And Cifuentes showed he's not afraid to snuff out an attack on his own and restart play the other way.
As far as debuts go, both players showed some of the things they are good at and a willingness to embrace what the coaching staff is asking of the team.
Lightning Strikes Again
Brian Rodríguez is showing what a full preseason can do.
Having come into the team midseason, the Designated Player has been one of LAFC's best heading into the Léon match. Rodríguez found the back of the net for the third match in a row and looks dangerous almost every time he touches the ball.
Against Toronto, he opened the scoring by maintaining his spacing as LAFC patiently worked the ball around the Toronto penalty area. The timing and angle of his run gave Carlos Vela a simple pass and Rayito finished with a thunderous shot.
Once again, Rodríguez is doing his damage within the framework of the team. He's obviously supremely talented but as of late, the goals are flowing because he's looking fluid within the team. And after the match, Bob Bradley complimented him on how much work he's done on the defensive side of the ball as well.
It's all coming together for Rodríguez at just the right time for LAFC.
Defend The Area
If you had to ding LAFC for anything it did in this match, it was careless at times.
Toronto really didn't create much on its own. It was only in moments LAFC lost the ball in bad areas that Toronto got looks on goal.
But when LAFC was tuned in, they were aggressive even without the ball. It was encouraging to see how LAFC limited Toronto entries into the penalty area. Even in defensive transition moments, LAFC got back and got after the attacker.
Again, Dejan Jaković and Jordan Harvey were central to LAFC's desire to defend its penalty area. They did an excellent job of delaying players on the run and giving teammates a chance to hustle back to help. Just a minute from halftime, Toronto went on a 2v2 that quickly turned into a 2v4 in LAFC's favor. Jaković and Harvey weren't afraid to stand their ground and once Toronto got around the penalty area, players were aggressive in closing and pestering Toronto attackers.
In the end, other than Toronto's one goal, the opposition had very full good looks at the LAFC goal. And what shots got through, Kenneth Vermeer had no trouble turning away.
LAFC Academy History
Saved the best for last.
Three names on the scoresheet for LAFC today. Two you recognize right away in Brian Rodríguez and Carlos Vela. The third name you'll be familiar with if you've been following the takeaways all preseason.
Christian Torres rounded out the scoring on the day. It was the first goal by an LAFC Academy product in Club history. And it definitely wasn't a fluke.
Torres has been dangerous over multiple matches in preseason. He nearly had two goals against Peñarol. And easily could have scored against NYCFC or FC Dallas.
But what's most important is the way the goal validates what he and his LAFC Academy teammates - Tony Leone, Erik Dueñas, Armando Avila, Diego Rosales, and Mauricio Gutierrez - did this preseason. They stepped into first-team training and embraced challenges. Each day, you could see a bit more rubbing off on them as they picked up ideas, gained valuable experience, and continued to forge a pathway from the Academy to the first team.
As we put an end to the preseason and look towards the season to come, you couldn't have scripted it any better. The future is very bright.