Editorial – Los Angeles FC comes into 2020 with one goal in mind, trophies. A sentiment they held all throughout their historic season last year. After setting the record in almost every major category last year, silverware continues to elude LAFC. While Supporter’s Shields are a great start, it’s just that, the start. Let’s take a closer look at the LAFC 2020 season preview.
LAFC 2020: Three Questions
As disappointing as the end to last season was for Los Angeles, it was still wildly successful for the young MLS club. Overcoming a tough, experienced, Sounders squad was always going to be a challenge, especially given the emotional toll of beating rivals, LA Galaxy, for the first time, just days before.
While they failed to win the Cup, they did secure a spot in this year’s CONCACAF Champion’s League. However, after a busy off-season, this year’s LAFC squad will have a slightly different look, but a definitely different feel.
After losing Lee Nguyen to Inter Miami in the expansion draft, Los Angeles decided to part ways with goalkeeper, Tyler Miller. In addition, a somewhat shocking trade saw LAFC part ways with defender, Walker Zimmerman.
It wasn’t all about those who left, as Los Angeles continues to bolster the midfield and attack with young talent. Midfielders, 20-year-old Jose Cifuentes, and 21-year-old Francisco Ginella were brought in to bolster the middle of the field. While veterans, goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips were brought in to help lead this fairly young team on the pitch, and off.
Will LAFC Make History in the Champion’s League?
No team from the MLS has won the tournament in the Champion’s League era. Over eleven years of Liga MX dominance could come to an end this year. The biggest concern for any MLS competing is whether they have the depth to compete in CCL, while still competing in MLS play.
Last year, Atlanta United, who many pegged as favorites, was not only knocked out in the quarter-finals but suffered a slow start to their MLS campaign. A late-season push saw them in the playoffs, but LAFC looks to avoid the slow start come March.
Los Angeles definitely has the talent to go all the way in CCL. In addition, the new members of the squad not only provide depth but are talented enough to provide production. LAFC faces an early test, going up against Liga MX power, León, in their opening round. Advancing will go a long way in giving this team the confidence they’ll need, and they’ve shown, a confident LAFC can beat anyone they face.
How Will New-Look Defense Perform?
While LAFC will look familiar in terms of attack, and who ends up on the score sheets, it’s the defense that has seen somewhat of an overhaul. Last season, LAFC allowed a league-best 37 goals.
However, this season won’t just see a new goalkeeper, it will see LAFC employ a different look on back four. Tristan Blackmon, Jordan Harvey, Diego Palacios, and Eddie Segura will be the likely starting back-line in March. Harvey has spent his preseason moving from LB to CB, and now that Zimmerman is gone, the chances Head Coach Bob Bradley sticks with the vet, are high.
LAFC will look to employ their fullbacks in a more, wing-back role this season, so look for both Palacios and Blackmon to play close to the box on the attack. While the late-season play of Pablo Sisniega was a motivating factor in moving Tyler Miller, it looks like Kenneth Vermeer has seized the starting role for himself.
The veteran keeper brings a calming presence to the pitch, confidently calculated in every decision he makes. Some growing pains are to be expected while this group gets used to one another, but it shouldn’t lead to many losses.
Who Helps Carlos Vela?
Carlos Vela was the most fouled player coming into last season, and after his historic MVP campaign in 2019, that will not change anytime soon. Expect Vela to be played more physically than anyone in the league, as defenders try to throw him off-rhythm. This gives an opportunity to the plethora of other options LAFC has in the attack. One player who has had an absolute scorching preseason is Brian Rodríguez. The 19-year-old winger looks poised to cement his position in the starting XI.
In addition to his goal-scoring efforts, the Uruguayan has flashed his pace, and ball skills. The Uruguayan has left his mark on the preseason and it will be hard to keep off the field in competitive play. His ability to not just service, but create, makes him the perfect partner for Vela. Someone he can rely on to get their own offense, while still having the awareness to keep others involved. Teams would be wise to tread lightly with trying to “stop” Vela. As good as he is, this team has plenty of other goal scorers.
While it would be insane to expect LAFC to repeat the historic run of last year, I do expect something in the same universe. This is clearly one of the best teams in the league, and with the recent influx of young talent, they are on the verge of getting even better. However, it is important to take CCL into account.
If there is any team that can balance Champion’s League and compete at a high level in MLS, it’s Los Angeles. Though, to be fair, the same was said of Atlanta last year.
The fact is, CCL brings a whole new set of challenges. While I don’t think they will slay the CCL dragon in year one, I do think this season ends with LAFC finally lifting the MLS Cup.