Editorial — The longest year ever is finally coming to a close. While LAFC still have the CCL trophy to fight for, their third season in the MLS has come to an end, after a first-round elimination at the hands of the Seattle Sounders. Much like the year itself, the season began with promise and excitement, only to dissolve into disaster.
The 2020 season review can be summed up in one word: consistency.
More specifically, LAFC’s struggle to find it.
2020 Season Review: LAFC Fail to Find Consistency, Come Up Short in Third Year
To even begin analyzing a year like 2020 is a feat itself. What began with the exciting comeback win over Léon with a crowded, and rowdy, Banc Stadium has evolved into uncertainty over when live sports will be a thing again, especially here in Los Angeles. This year was the perfect case study of Murphy’s law, where everything that can go wrong, did. Everything from a pandemic putting the pause on the season, multiple times, to never quite fielding the best XI due to all the injuries sustained throughout the season.
Coming into the season, Diego Rossi was a player many were looking towards to continue his rise in production and he did not disappoint. The Uruguayan netted 14 goals during this shortened season, en route to the Golden Boot award. During the absence of Carlos Vela due to injury, Rossi did everything to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.
Unfortunately, he was unable to participate in the postseason, after testing positive for COVID-19 while on international duty. His absence was a major factor in the 3-1 playoff loss to the Sounders, leaving LAFC without many attacking options. However, barring any unforeseen events, he will be ready and available for the conclusion of the CCL. If LAFC are to lift silverware before year’s end, Rossi will be a big reason why.
— LAFC (@LAFC) December 8, 2020
What Went Well in 2020 for LAFC
The biggest silver lining to this season, and year as a whole for LAFC, was the glimpse into the future of the club. Whether it was the MLS is Back restart in Orlando, or throughout the shortened regular season, youth was ever present amongst the squad.
LAFC signed three Academy players — Christian Torres, Erik Dueñas and Tony Leone — with one making his mark from the start. Torres has seen a meteoric rise within the squad. In addition to being amongst the first Academy players signed, he became the first prospect to feature, start and eventually score in an MLS match.
While dealing with injuries to proven veterans are never ideal, it’s always good to get a legitimate look at the youth rising within the ranks. For LAFC, it would appear they have a stable of young players ready to step up when called upon. The youth are a silver lining to a dark year and could eventually become foundations for a golden age.
What Went Wrong in 2020 for LAFC
Everything. Curtain close, big laugh, applause.
All jokes aside, plenty went wrong for the black and gold. Injuries to key players, poor runs of form, an inability to produce consistently, positive COVID results… you name it, they faced it. However, the biggest issue for them this year was defense. In 2019, LAFC allowed a league low 37 goals through 34 matches played. In the 23 match shortened season this year, they allowed 39 goals, third-most goals allowed by a playoff team.
The easy argument is to point to the pre-season sale of defender Walker Zimmerman, but the problems ran deeper than the absence of just one player. In addition to sloppy play from the back four, there were issues with midfield defending and possession, as well as inconsistent play from both goalkeepers. If this team is to have any chance at making history in the CCL, they will need to fortify defenses and keep opportunities for the opposition at a minimum.
Relive one of the best comebacks in Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League 🔥
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) December 7, 2020
Where They Need to Improve for 2021
Above all, this team needs a definitive number one between the posts. A legitimate, first-option goalkeeper. While both Kenneth Vermeer and Pablo Sisniega have immense talent and have shown flashes, this team needs a keeper who does more than flash brilliance. It cannot be understated how valuable it is to have a keeper you have complete faith in. It allows defenders to play with more freedom, and importantly, more confidence.
Speaking of, while it’s unfair to single-out the Zimmerman move for all the defensive woes, his departure has left a gap that needs to be filled. Zimmerman wasn’t just a great defender; he was a leader from the back. LAFC need to bring in a defender, or have one step up from within the squad, who isn’t afraid to hold others accountable and to lead vocally throughout a match.
After three years of the same results, the biggest improvement — it has to be said — needs to be mentality. The phrase “it’s been a weird year” has defined this season for LAFC. A sentiment everyone agrees with, but one that hasn’t been used as often with other clubs around the league.
Seattle, for instance, has once again found themselves journeying back to the MLS Cup Finals. While it would still be too harsh to say 2021 is a ‘title or bust’ year, I do think it’s a ‘Finals or bust’ season. A team as talented as this, to not have a single Finals appearance in any completion, is a problem.