LAFC weather first-half setback as price to pay for playing daring style

LOS ANGELES -- Fresh off a new contract signed last week, LAFC midfielder Latif Blessing scored to make it 2-0 in Sunday's clash against the New York Red Bulls, his second goal in as many games.

But he also coughed up the ball in a bad spot a in the 42nd minute, leading to the first of two Red Bulls goals that saw them draw level 2-2 at the break.

Reason for Bob Bradley to give the Ghanaian a talking-to at halftime? On the contrary, according to LAFC's head coach.

“At halftime, he’s disappointed with himself but that happens in football,” said Bradley of Blessing’s mood in the dressing room during the intermission, explaining that the manner in which his midfielder lost the ball and what happened afterward are risks inherent in LAFC’s style.

“You’ll never lose those balls in there if you just kick the ball up the field the whole time but, no, that’s not how we want to play.”

Despite blowing that 2-0 lead and having a larger number of giveaways than usual, in the end the Black & Gold came away deserved 4-2 winners and, for the duration of the game, despite Red Bulls’ late first-half rally, it never felt that LAFC were going to give up points.

That said, the Red Bulls certainly made LAFC work for it.

“I kind of felt like it was a sloppy game,” admitted Jordan Harvey afterward.

It was the MLS veteran’s header — celebrated with an homage to his wife, who’s expecting the couple’s second child — that opened the scoring in the first half with Harvey’s defensive partner Eddie Segura, who contributed an almost identical Carlos Vela-assisted set piece strike to put the game out of reach with the home side's fourth goal.

“I felt like at moments we couldn’t connect passes, but then we had some really bright moments,” Harvey added.

In the end, LAFC were not at their best, they gave up the lead, and still got the job done. While the team this year is not so different in style of play or personnel than the team that made its debut in MLS last season, their ability to respond to adversity has perhaps been the most marked improvement from an inaugural campaign that saw them drop key points at times when the going got tough.

“It’s a learning curve from last year to this year,” defender Steven Beitashour told reporters after Sunday’s victory. “I think we’ve improved tremendously. I think last year, this game would [end with us] either drawing or possibly losing. We don’t like to give up leads at the end of the half like that, [against] Atlanta the same thing happened, but it was a good response in the second half and it was similar this week.”

Only two weeks ago, LAFC gave up two other first-half goals at home to the defending 2018 MLS Cup Champs, in similar fashion to the way they did to the 2018 MLS Supporters' Shield winning side Sunday — two pieces of silverware the Black & Gold are dead-set on lifting for their own this year — but in both cases, the home side was able to come away with the goals necessary for three points.

Bradley admitted that in his discussion with his players at halftime of the Atlanta game he “gave it to them good” because of the way they started and ended the half, but the match against the Red Bulls was more about patience.

“I thought that [the Red Bulls’] intensity tonight, their pressing tonight, maybe Chris [Armas, New York's head coach] would disagree but I thought it was the best I’ve seen all year,” the LAFC boss said of the challenge his opponents posed his side. “It’s not like you’re going to start screaming at halftime, ‘What are you doing?’ We’re trying to play football, we’re trying to find the right plays, we're trying to see things faster so there's no part of tonight where there’s screaming or yelling about anything.”

The biggest part for LAFC is an increasing acceptance that by being determined to play their own brand of attacking, daring – even sometimes risky — football, the league leaders are all but guaranteeing that some amount of adversity will come their way.

But the more players young players like Blessing and his teammates go through nights like Sunday, the more Bradley feels veteran players will be able to guide the team as a whole forward to face whatever challenges opponents pose with much more confidence.

“We understand that teams are going to try in certain moments to press us hard and we still say, come on, we can pass it in there, there’s enough room, you can receive it in the right way, so that now it sets up the next pass,” said Bradley. “I think we get more and more confident at that but look, there’s all these different levels to keep going that’s still what separates good from great from the best.”