LAFC survive Minnesota with Carlos Vela goal but concerns remain

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ST. PAUL – Los Angeles FC have won one of their last six games. They’ve lost four of those games. On Tuesday night, they managed a 1-1 draw at Minnesota United. It did take a great goal from Carlos Vela to make that happen. They were outplayed in that match. A month ago, most of MLS Twitter thought they could win the double. Now, they’re not likely to win the Supporters’ Shield. Concerns remain for the black and gold.

LAFC survive Minnesota United with Carlos Vela goal but underlying issues remain

Ironically, this seems to be coming down to too many changes in the squad. Gareth Bale and Carlos Vela are amazing players. Either of them could join a different MLS team tomorrow and improve it, even Philadelphia Union. But they’re too similar. Neither stretches the backline enough. They track back to the ball, allowing opposing defenses to track back and surround them. Vela’s goal came two minutes after a double sub that saw Kwadwo Opoku and Cristian Tello (different style of players) come on. Bale came off. The goal was scored by LAFC stretching the Loons backline horizontally and Vela playing more centrally. This was no coincidence. Maybe this would be fine if the front three were all fit and on form. Bale played 62 minutes on Tuesday, just the second time he’s played more than an hour.

Similarly, the defense has regressed in this stretch. The back three didn’t have much protection on Tuesday night. Steve Cherundolo has an interesting problem on his hands. He’s got four starting caliber center backs. That’s not a position you want to substitute at, even with five substitutions. The backline, more than the attack, needs a run out of games with the same personnel. Giorgio Chiellini has built up his fitness quicker than Bale. He’s played 90 minutes twice and 70+ minutes four times in the last six games. For this team to gel, Cherundolo might have to pick a partnership and stick with it. Rotating defensive personnel and shapes from playoff game to playoff game is risky.

Lastly, I have to wonder how much the expectations and hype has gotten into the locker room in an unhealthy way. The team was on a roll through mid-summer. They sign Chiellini and Bale, like they were playing a video game with the budget restraints turned off. The MLS media announced them as Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners elect. Maybe this bad run of form is just a bump in the road that’s festered due to expectations. There is time. They’ve got three regular season games left. Their first round playoff game will most probably be a home game against a weaker team. The club already has won the Shield. They want MLS Cup. They’ve got till the second round of the playoffs to be clicking. If they can do that, their superior talent can overwhelm opponents all the way to a championship.

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