In a sport with a near-infinite amount of data points and meticulous preparation, one moment can still be the difference.
It's why we love football. It's what keeps the die-hards coming back for more and what creates new fans. You simply have to watch to understand those special moments - no coaching license or advanced degree in Twitter punditry required.
- LAFC 1 - 0 Inter Miami CF
- 44' LAFC - Carlos Vela WATCH
Because for all the talk about tactics, game models, mentality, formations, and on and on until your mind goes numb, sometimes it's simply the brilliance of one player with some form of holy geometry in his mind and an angelic touch and sheer force of will that says, "To hell with the all your quantifiables and structures, watch this!"
Carlos Vela, on his birthday of all days, inhabited that role once again for LAFC on Sunday. His audacious chip in the 44th minute was as imaginative as it was clinical for the Black & Gold. From the moment Vela had defenders scrambling with his first touch to his inch-perfect lob of the goalkeeper, the impossible seemed within reach.
It was a reminder that as much as we - myself included - look to legislate out uncertainty in football through over-analysis and jargon, one player can still seize a match and our attention with something truly inventive. Long may the game forever be that way.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 1-0 win over Inter Miami CF to open the 2020 MLS season:
Kenneth Vermeer earned his first MLS shutout in the 1-0 victory. He was a deserved Man of the Match with a handful of key saves.
It was more than just the saves though. Vermeer helped LAFC with his distribution and willingness to come off his line. The Dutch keeper's ability to read the game and fearlessness in making plays gave his team a major boost. There were more than a couple of times Vermeer had to be attentive to the situation, coming some 30 yards from his goal at times to manage situations.
Beyond what you see on the pitch and the result, Vermeer's qualities bode well for LAFC. Psychologically speaking, when you have a keeper you can count to get that key save when you need it or have your back when teams play over the top, it eases the minds of a lot of players. It's a platform of sorts. Players aren't afraid to step forward or make a play because behind them is a keeper they know can bail them out at times when things go wrong.
The Art Of Defending
The partnership of Dejan Jaković and Eddie Segura through three matches has been a resounding success. Even in León, despite the 2-0 scoreline, they were excellent.
I've found myself time and time again ranking both Segura and Jaković as among the top performers in each of LAFC's matches in 2020. That's saying a lot with all the firepower up front that will get all the attention.
Both players read the game so well. Their ability to multitask comfortably is probably the best attribute of the duo. Over these last two matches, you see how they manage the ball and runners. They aren't afraid to defend with space behind and multiple players around them because they know they can get to the danger areas if necessary.
Against Inter Miami, Jaković and Segura put on another masterclass of risk assessment. Both center backs slid to one side as needed and won their individual battles. When they couldn't get the ball off of attackers, they did well to delay play and rely on the recovery of teammates. Jordan Harvey and Tristan Blackmon complimented their backline mates by never giving up on plays and squeezed Inter Miami players off the ball in pivotal moments after the opponent found a runner in transition.
That interplay between having a high line, covering for teammates, and being unafraid to make individuals plays is just as important to LAFC's game model as its attacking play going forward.
Gutting It Out
After the performance against León on Thursday, I was eager to see the team's mindset in this match.
The tight turnaround and an emotional win do a team no favors. Especially, when we're just in the infancy of the season. But LAFC showed it can manage even when the squad isn't as rested as it would like to be. Even when they weren't sharp, the Black & Gold continued to work. And as the match progressed, you got the sense they knew they could pull together as a unit to ride out the result.
I said it in the Keys To The Match, this is the new normal for LAFC. Great teams rack up a lot of matches and many times it's on short rest. Being able to dig deep and put in a performance is something the squad can build upon as the season progresses.
Rossi Through The Center
Let's not go too deep into positions. I'll start by saying this, throughout the match, LAFC's front three rotated and were dynamic in the positions they started from.
That being said, Diego Rossi found himself as the central option more often than not. It was not unlike the spots he found himself in against León on Thursday, and once again, it was encouraging.
The Uruguayan is a finisher and a threat to get behind backlines wherever he is on the pitch.
From wide areas, he does it with his well-timed, angled runs to goal.
Through the center, he changes up his runs behind center backs with the ability to connect play. Rossi's skillset caters to what LAFC wants in that role. Rossi isn't going to simply play with his back to goal. He uses his energy and willingness to run behind to create spaces to face up the backline. Defenders have a lot to think about with Rossi's movement from that position
Against Inter Miami, Rossi contributed to a few good movements when he made himself available in the pocket just in front of the backline and received the ball with his body positioned towards goal. That allows Carlos Vela and Brian Rodríguez opportunities to play off the ball and get into the gaps created by players having to step to close Rossi down.
It's an interesting option for LAFC's ever-dynamic front three. As if opposing defenders possibly needed something else to worry about when it comes to LAFC.
Inter Miami entered Banc of California much the way LAFC went to Seattle two years ago. They came in as an unknown quantity. But by the end of 90 minutes, we saw some of what they are about.
Diego Alonso's side was adamant about keeping LAFC from getting clean looks. They pressed well at times and closed spaces.
In Rodolfo Pizarro, they have a creative player that can pick his spots around the pitch and connect the attack. Along with Robbie Robinson, Pizarro is a good outlet for Inter Miami when they're under pressure and turn transition moments into something dangerous.
They didn't finish the day with anything to show in the standings but it was definitely a performance Alonso's team and fans can be optimistic about.