Wayne Rooney smiles - D.C. United
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Bogert: Why DC United vs LAFC could be an early MLS Cup preview

When Wayne Rooney leads D.C. United onto the lush Audi Field grass on Saturday alongside Carlos Vela and LAFC in front of a packed crowd, the grand scene will be set, a scriptwriter's dream. 

It's forecast to be a jacket-less spring day in the U.S. capital, with temperatures forecast to reach a pleasant 69 degrees with Washington, D.C.'s famed cherry blossoms in peak bloom.

The plotline most crucial to the narrative, of course, is that D.C. and LAFC are each undefeated atop their conferences a month into the 2019 season. Both are playing captivating soccer, sweeping opponents aside with panache, building up to what may well be an early MLS Cup preview in D.C. (3 pm ET | FOX in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). 

Carlos Vela celebrates a goal with Adrien Perez | USA Today Sports

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LAFC have commandeered early headlines around MLS, winning four of their first five matches in dominating and dramatic style. The club have chalked up two stoppage-time winners already, securing victories against the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake with stunning strikes from Adama Diomande and Walker Zimmerman, respectively, as well as a pair of multi-goal thrashings and a hard-fought road draw. 

Bob Bradley's team set out to be an attacking juggernaut, and thus far have made good on that ethos. LAFC have created 65 chances, far and away more than any other team in the league; the Colorado Rapids are in a distant second with 45. 

They create those chances with possession, some pressing and maximizing favorable 1-on-1 duels to allow their stars to shine.

LAFC rank in the top third of the league in passes completed (2,029), passing accuracy (83%) and possession (54%). They are also in the top third in recoveries in the final third (31) and first in dribbles completed (66), again by a comfortable margin. (All stats per Opta.)

D.C. United, meanwhile, have built themselves into a defensive fortress. Bill Hamid has kept three clean sheets in four matches while new signing Leonardo Jara has immediately added to the defense alongside Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brilliant and Joseph Mora, though the latter is out at least four weeks with a broken jaw. 

United are tied for third in tackles won (58) and are fourth in duel success (53%). In front of the backline sit Junior Moreno and Russell Canouse, providing Rooney and Co. attacking freedom via their tactical structure and backbone. That pair's tracking work against LAFC's advanced midfielders, and Vela whenever he drifts infield, will merit close attention on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta | USA Today Sports

It may read as a classically simplistic clash of attack vs. defense — with D.C. United boasting the league's stingiest backline, conceding just once this season, and LAFC the most volcanic attack, erupting for a league-high 15 goals over their first five games. But it's more nuanced than that: D.C.'s attack and LAFC's defense render each side balanced.

United blitzed RSL for five goals in their biggest 2019 win to date, and continue to garner adulation for their devastating "LuchoRoo" attacking combination. Meanwhile LAFC have conceded more than one goal just once so far this season and are led in the back by Zimmerman, who was quietly one of the league's top performers in March.

Perhaps most importantly, though, each team is led by one of the league's best players.

Rooney and Vela have established themselves as major factors in the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race. Rooney has four goals and three assists in four games while Vela has six goals and three assists in five games, each providing moments of magic that have yet to wear off. When these guys play, it's must-watch at the moment. Simple as.

Alongside these leading figures are stars in their own right, as there has yet to be a mention of Diego Rossi, Lucho Acosta, Lee Nguyen or Paul Arriola here. Audi Field will be heavily saturated with top-level talent on Saturday.

Bottom line: Both teams have started hot and both look legit.

Innumerable alterations to the plot will inevitably come between now and MLS Cup on Nov. 10, especially with the new one-game knockout playoff format, but an elaborate fantasy isn't necessary to imagine Saturday's encounter between D.C. United and LAFC as an early MLS Cup preview.

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