Tristan Blackmon on ball vs. SJ
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Getting defensive: LAFC backline the backbone of historic success

LOS ANGELES — In the 27th minute at Banc of California Stadium Wednesday night, before LAFC came away 4-0 victors against the San Jose Earthquakes, before Carlos Vela blew up the internet with a strong candidate for Goal of the Year, right back Steven Beitashour had a choice to make.

The ball was squiggling toward the sideline in his own half, right in front of his manager Bob Bradley, last touched by the home team.

The MLS veteran defender could have let the ball roll out, track back and get ready for the next San Jose attack. Instead, he hustled, lunged to knock the ball to Eduard Atuesta to maintain possession.

Of course, Beitashour’s small burst of effort won’t make headlines with so many other sparkling moments the Supporters’ Shield leaders put on display, but the instance was indicative of the many tiny defensive screws Bradley’s team has tightened in recent weeks.

Whether it's hustle plays by Beitashour in his team’s half, clearances by backline partners Jordan Harvey and Tristan Blackmon, or even tracking back from the likes of Diego Rossi and Vela, LAFC was determined to keep San Jose off the scoresheet.

After conceding a total of five goals across their prior two home victories — over Eastern Conference powerhouses Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls — LAFC got their midweek clean sheet and their NorCal rivals tipped their cap.

“They have an excellent team and they make it very difficult to beat them,” San Jose boss Matias Almeyda said. “They are showing it this season and they are serious candidates for the championship.”

With all their goals scored this season (71), it’s easy to forget LAFC also have conceded a league-low 25 goals — nine fewer than their next Western Conference foe and five fewer than stingy Atlanta United. A year ago, they allowed 52, including many that resulted in dropped points.

While defensive regulars Beitashour, Harvey, Eddie Segura, and Walker Zimmerman deserve credit for their performances, it’s Bradley’s “everyone defends, everyone attacks” philosophy that has also allowed a player like Blackmon — who put in a solid performance at center back in Zimmerman’s absence Wednesday — to step in and thrive.

“When you’re called upon, you need to step in and make sure you do as best as you can and the team won’t suffer because you’re in,” said Blackmon, who was selected third overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. “I think I’ve focused on that very much so this year, trying to come in and not taking a step off and really pushing the tempo when I can. It’s been a really important thing for me this year and I think for other guys as well stepping in.”

Bradley, who also lauded Blackmon’s performance in the 4-2 win over the Red Bulls, will hope his team remains dialed in defensively Sunday (10:30 PM ET | FS1, TSN1) as they look for their first three points against the LA Galaxy, the only Western Conference opponent they have yet to beat in their short existence.   

“We’ve got to be ready,” Bradley said. “It means more, it’s the emotion in the game, the intensity of the game. So far, with all the things we’ve done, we haven’t beat them, so certainly it’s something we’re all thinking about.”