How LAFC plays on despite increasingly physical approach from opponents

SANDY, Utah — As soon as Tuesday's fourth-round matchup in the U.S. Open Cup was announced between LAFC and Real Salt Lake, each team already knew the game plan and what they were in for.

LAFC’s style lends itself to taking advantage of space and making the game fluid. More and more the playbook of their opponents has been to close that space down and slow the game down, no matter how many fouls it may take.

It was an approach RSL used to upset LAFC in last season's Knockout Round encounter, to date Salt Lake's only victory in the teams' all-time series, as depicted below:

The Claret-and-Cobalt tried it again with less effect Tuesday in a 3-0 defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“We have a history with this team,” LAFC midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “We knew in the center of the park they have two guys who want to close down early and make the game hard for us. We need to move the ball quick and find that extra guy then make them run a little bit more.”

For LAFC coach Bob Bradley, dealing with the approach of RSL and others is just part of the territory of playing their style.

“We know there’s going to be teams that try to knock us out of our rhythm," Bradley said. "And the responsibility is always on us to handle that, not let it get in the way, and keep trying to get control, connect passes, and play the way we like to play."

As for RSL, their approach represented an alteration from the attacking game they typically try to play. That decision was made easier by the international absences of attacking tandem Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino.

“You try to make some changes where you can try to neutralize some of their strengths, but they also have other strengths and then kind of counter that,” Real Salt Lake assistant coach Freddy Juarez said. “You take a risk.”

It was nothing LAFC hadn't seen before, though, and their ability to cope with other teams' aggression has a lot to do with the demeanor of their attacking maestro, Carlos Vela.

“He smiles even when he gets fouled,” Bradley said. “He’s not somebody to let it get in the way of anything. We’re really lucky that he’s our leader.”

Bradley tries to reframe other teams' tactics attempting to containing Vela and the rest of his attack as a sign of appreciation for their talents.

“There’s not one opponent that doesn’t have a high level of respect for what he does,” Bradley said of teams' approach to Vela. “Every team has their own idea. We try to create some fluidity. We tried to have a game where the ball is moving and where the game moves.”