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MLS Western Conference Final: How LAFC tactics dismantled Austin

lafc tactics

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles FC are finally heading to MLS Cup. On Sunday afternoon, the hosted and outplayed Austin FC in the MLS Western Conference Final, winning 3-0. LAFC’s boogeyman were never really in the game with the final score line showing the gulf between the two performances.

MLS Western Conference Final: LAFC tactics dismantle Austin

LAFC ran circles around the visitors on the opening half. Austin couldn’t start attacks. Carlos Vela and Dénis Bouanga had looks. José Cifuentes hit the post. Cristian Arango opened the scoring a half hour in on a corner. Brad Stuver made big saves to keep his team within touching distance.

Austin showed life to start the second half, but a Maxi Urruti own goal halted any momentum. Minutes later, Diego Fagundez had his foot stepped on just inside the box. VAR did not call a penalty. With 10 minutes left, Kwadwo Opoku put the game away, making it 3-0. Bouanga appeared to make it four in stoppage time, but the play was ruled offside.

So, what are the takeaways from this Western Conference Final?

LAFC tactics, pressing pins Austin in, they had no answer:

LAFC neutralized Austin’s biggest strength. Other than the first 10 minutes of the second half, Verde never established their style. José Cifuentes and Kellyn Acosta pressed well, as did the front three. Austin couldn’t play out of the back. They never settled down in midfield.

The center backs put Sebastian Driussi on an island, winning every long ball. That just created more transition moments and crosses into the Austin defensive third. Vela and Bouanga put on a clinic on how to find and create space from wide areas. Austin were dominated on the flanks.

As a result, LAFC were able to attack in waves. Austin could not get their attack going to put the home side on the backfoot. All this with Gareth Bale not coming in off the bench.

Poor play and some bad luck for Austin:

Jon Champion said on the broadcast it was the first game in Austin history in which they didn’t register a shot on goal in a first half. That about summed it up. Playing Driussi as a second forward did not work. Emiliano Rigoni had a howler, unable to keep the ball and giving up fouls. It should be said Armando Villarreal let much physicality go. Multiple times, Rigoni was challenged by an LAFC player only to make a challenge himself and get called for a foul moments later.

It’s hard to blame the backline for bending and braking as much as they did. LAFC has the best front three in the league. They did not play well enough, but they were set up to fail. Steve Cherundolo outcoached Josh Wolff. The line in front of them did them no favors.

Austin were unlucky with the officiating. Carlos Vela was given a yellow card in the second half for a slide tackle on Ruben Gabrielsen. The studs did not fully connect but I’ve seen that been red before. Fagundez getting stepped in the box with 20 minutes to go looked like a penalty. If VAR calls it, Austin potentially makes it a 2-1 game.

One underlying weakness remains:

Brad Stuver kept his team in it as best he could. He made seven saves on 10 shots and 2.25 expected goals conceded. It could have been 3-0 at halftime. It was only 1-0. If Austin knicks a goal at the end of the half or the opening 10 minutes of the second, it’s game on. When LAFC’s dropped points at home, that’s been the story. A goalkeeper stands on his head, they don’t cash in their chances, and the opponent scores against the run of play. Look at Decision Day, when Joe Willis won MLS POTW and Nashville SC beat then 1-0. At MLS Cup, they will play a team with a goalkeeper and defense that can do that. This is a potential blueprint for them to lose.

Last Word:

There’s a sense of inevitability around this LAFC team. Winning the Supporters’ Shield. All their attacking players. How well they can outplay opponents at home. I felt similarly about Seattle in 2019 and LA Galaxy in 2014. Regardless of my last header, I think they win next Saturday.

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