LAFC Suffers in El Trafico 8
August 27, 2020
El Trafico never fails to deliver. This time the derby gave LAFC a one-two punch in their own house. Not only did the favored Black and Gold lose 2-0 at home to cross-town nemesis, the L.A. Galaxy, they also lost league MVP Carlos Vela for at least a couple of weeks. Adding insult to injury, the Galaxy also regained the lead in the all-time series between the rivals.
"It was a terrible game for us," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley, not mincing words: "It's a day where I'm going to take responsibility because we didn't look like ourselves. We never found any rhythm. The game had no tempo. We weren't dangerous, and we just looked like we were second best throughout the day."
He also spelled out Vela's condition: "It's a Grade 2 MCL. Happens on the play where he cuts inside somewhere around the 55th minute as he tries to shoot... And so that MCL opens up a little bit. It's an injury that we see in football many times, and that we just need to evaluate him week by week.
But there's no time to lament as LAFC travels to take on Real Salt Lake this Wednesday, August 26, for a 6:30 PDT clash at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. RSL is coming off a 4-1 trouncing over the Colorado Rapids and are currently tied with LAFC for fifth place in the very competitive MLS Western Conference. Both teams have 2-1-3 records and nine points. Sporting Kansas City at 5-1-0 leads the conference with 15 points.
In the series matchup LAFC has a 4-1 record against Real in the short history between the clubs. But that one RSL victory was a 3-2 stunner as they upset LAFC in its inaugural season at the Banc of California Stadium during the 2018 MLS Playoffs. This season Salt Lake has relied on a stingy defense, yielding a mere four goals in six matches, yet only scoring seven goals total.
LAFC's offense, a threat since its inception, has piled up 15 goals in six league matches this season. But a very challenged defense has given up 12 total, a major reason for the three ties compromising their record. Forward Diego Rossi, who shined in the recent MLS is Back Tournament, leads the league with six goals. Bradley Wright-Phillips playing in the nine slot has three goals while versatile Latif Blessing is tied for second in league assists with four.
Aside from Vela, LAFC will tackle RSL without the services of rising-star midfielder Eduard Atuesta, nursing a right foot injury. He's been doing work on the field but is not in regular training.
Wright-Phillips: "I obviously want to score a goal but the most important thing for us is that I don't think we're a team that has to think about scoring goals. I think we have to look for a good start. We've got to show intensity. We're bouncing back from a big loss and that's what I try to bring if I'm playing."
Bradley focused the team on defensive drills Tuesday morning: "I think the number one thing is defending set pieces, defending corners. We're a team that over the years has defended the corner well. And now this year we've been susceptible."
None of that mattered at the Banc for Saturday's hot afternoon with the Galaxy. Vela, who missed the MLS is Back tourney, was playing his first match since March. LAFC was a prohibitive favorite to dismiss the Galaxy. Just last month at the MLS 'bubble' in Florida last month, they administered a 6-2 beat-down with Rossi scoring four goals. The Galaxy were playing without star forward Chicharito.
"We were slow from the get-go. We didn't show up," offered LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon. "It's a Derby match, and at the end of the day we didn't show up. We didn't win second balls. We didn't get into the attacking third enough with clear-cut chances and we gave up two goals."
Another factor was the Banc was devoid of fans, including The 3252 Supporters group that has been a key ingredient in the team's overall concept and success. Their non-stop infectious chants were replaced with silence from the stands. "It was good to be back but a loss at home isn't what we were hoping for," said LAFC defender Diego Palacios. Obviously, we miss our supporters because they really push us, but at the end of the day, we are the ones that play and it just wasn't a great day."
Blackmon acknowledged The 3252's impact: "Usually the crowds here are rocking from before we get here until after the game is over. That's definitely a huge part for us. We miss the fans a lot, and we're looking to make amends with everyone the next game and get it done."
LAFC controlled the ball but the Galaxy attacked with greater accuracy while playing a physical game. Galaxy forward Ethan Zubak, assisted by Julian Araujo and Cristian Pavon, buried the first goal past goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer in the 26th minute. Nine minutes into the second half, Sebastian Lletget shook LAFC with an easy put-away, again assisted via a fine combo from Araujo and Pavón.
Palacios pinpointed LAFC's lapse: "We didn't perform the way we usually do and the way this team has being doing so for the last two years. We lost a lot of balls; we didn't pressure them and that's what was missing."
Vela's return is inevitable but the timeline ultimately depends upon prudence, given his value to the team and the league. Yet, he remains positive about his recovery according to Bradley: "He's really good with his teammates. And even with the difficult news, it's the same Carlos. He's always engaged with the players. He's engaged with what we need to be thinking about as a team. And so, those are all qualities that make him so special to us all."