Daily Kickoff - 12.4.23
What you need to know

Happy MLS Cup Week

Columbus Crew host LAFC at 4 pm ET this Saturday free on Apple TV. The game is also on FOX and FOX Deportes in the US, as well as TSN and RDS in Canada

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Tale of the tape: The MLS Cup

It’s officially MLS Cup week, and we’ve been blessed with a heavyweight fight. LAFC are set to defend their title against a Columbus team that feels fated right now. Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape.

Dénis Bouangas

  • Columbus Crew - 0
  • LAFC - 1

Advantage here to LAFC. It’s just gotta be said. But, to be fair…

Match-winners in attack

  • Columbus Crew - 2.5
  • LAFC - 2 (?)

I have some thoughts and questions here. On the Crew side, you definitely have Cucho Hernandez. He’s the best striker in the league right now. You also have former LAFC DP Diego Rossi. He has five goal contributions in five starts this postseason and 11 goal contributions in 13 starts since joining the Crew this summer. I think we can all agree on those two for sure.

Where it gets a little tricky for Columbus is with two players who had major impacts in the Crew’s classic comeback on Saturday night. Christian Ramirez scored the winner to make it 10 goals in about 1700 minutes this season and postseason. That’s a solid output, but maybe not quite a feature of the bonafide “match-winner” we’re looking for.

Then there’s Julian Gressel, who hasn’t been starting but clearly flipped the match on its head when he subbed on and started sending 100 MPH sliders into the box against an already-tired FC Cincinnati defense. It seems like he might be a decent fit to attack an LAFC team that had just 29% possession against Houston and 30% against Seattle, but we’ll wait and see how the Crew decide to deploy him, especially when some (all?) of his defensive responsibilities will be Bouanga-related. We’ll call it 2.5 for the Crew for now.

Hey, speaking of Bouanga, is he the only player you can clearly call a match-winner for LAFC right now? I mean, besides elite goal-scorer Ryan Hollingshead? It’s so weird to consider because you see Carlos Vela doing things that still look pretty Carlos Vela-ey out there and you see new forward Cristian Olivera doing things that look pretty terrifying and you see all the talent on the bench…and then you see three-straight wins where defense has been the primary feature for LAFC and it just doesn’t feel as scary as you’d think it would on paper. Then again, Bouanga. We’ll meet in the middle and call it two?

Possession percentage in the playoffs

  • Columbus Crew - 54%
  • LAFC - 38%

Now, some of this is game-state-dependent, and LAFC’s tendency to take a first-half lead and the Crew playing from behind a couple of times has influenced it a bit. But I think it does indicate the Crew have approached the playoffs in a similar manner to the rest of the season.

They led the league with 57% possession per game this year. LAFC hovered around 50%. And that’s where they were for their first match with Vancouver. It trended down the next game of the series, went all the way down to 30% against Seattle, and then ended at 29% against Houston.

There’s a chance we’re set to see the same kind of numbers against the Crew. LAFC are going to be willing to sit and counter. The Crew will be more than happy to let them do it. The underlying numbers show why.

Postseason expected goals per game

  • Columbus Crew - 2.18 xGF
  • LAFC - 1.22 xGF

Postseason expected goals allowed per game

  • Columbus Crew - 1.26 xGA
  • LAFC - 0.88 xGF

We’re looking at two very different playoff game models, aren’t we? You probably knew this already from the eye test, but the numbers help. LAFC have veered hard toward pragmatism, and it’s worked like a charm so far. Especially so against Seattle and Houston, two teams who had their issues finding the net this year.

The Crew have not had issues finding the net at any point. Against anyone. Which means LAFC will have a decision to make. They won’t win the possession battle versus the Crew, but do they try to skew towards their regular season game model and keep the ball at their feet a little more? Or are they willing to let the Crew attempt to break down a back line that’s been outstanding the last few weeks until an attacking opportunity presents itself?

Games left at home

  • Columbus Crew - 1
  • LAFC - 0

It wouldn’t be a Daily Kickoff if we didn’t mention it, right?

Full Time

Good luck out there. Provide a proper soundtrack for the moment.