For the first time in their history, LAFC appear to be hitting a rough patch.
They weren't a great team in 2018, but it was an expansion season. 2019 was the best regular season any club has put together. But after a decent start that included a 6-2 thrashing of rivals LA Galaxy, Bob Bradley's team were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament and have lost their last two matches in rather unimpressive fashion.
Of course, they've had Carlos Vela for just three of the nine games they've played. And Eduard Atuesta has missed the last two games with a foot injury, which may be a loss just as big as Vela. It's also important to note there are bigger things going on in the world than soccer, as Bradley pointed out after his team's 3-1 loss to Seattle on Sunday night. But what exactly is going wrong for the Black & Gold?
One thing that's rather plain to see is they are conceding a lot of goals — 17 in just nine matches. While we remember the 2019 version of LAFC as a high-flying attacking team, the fact is they conceded just 37 goals in 34 regular season games.
They're not just getting unlucky. The amount of expected goals they are conceding has seen a stark rise this year.
|Season||Goals Conceded/Game||Expected Goals Conceded/Game|
* = 2020 numbers include all MLS is Back matches, 2019 include playoffs
The why of it could include a number of factors. The loss of Walker Zimmerman, which you can hear Matt Doyle's thoughts on below, is certainly a big one. LAFC's playing style will also see them concede chances and have to put out fires in the back, something Zimmerman was adept at. The transition from Tyler Miller to Kenneth Vermeer has also not gone particularly smoothly.
Bradley's breakdown of Seattle's second goal after the match could be described as a microcosm of LAFC's defensive issues so far.
"The second one, there is a lot of space behind the defense, our line is high, we have the ball and, as I mentioned earlier, Latif [Blessing] starts moving with it and loses it and then quickly it goes out on our right side," Bradley said. "[Nicolas] Lodeiro played a very good ball. I don’t think that Dejan [Jakovic] and Eddie [Segura], especially Dejan in this case, read the situation well. Because, I think Dejan has the speed as the ball is going to Lodeiro, and the ball got put in behind Dejan. He has the speed to react and move off of [Jordan] Morris earlier, and then it is Kenneth [Vermeer]’s job just to clean up in that situation. So, his decision to come late with Morris running out after the ball was a poor one."
On a Tuesday conference call, Bradley pointed to many reasons for their defensive issues, including players underperforming since returning from Orlando, set-piece problems and poorly played passes.
LAFC have also gone from losing possession 138 times per game in 2019 to 159 times in 2020. Their passing accuracy has also dropped from 84.4% to 81%. Those kinds of numbers could lead to more transition opportunities for opponents.
Offensively, the team were cruising along until the last three matches — in which they scored just two goals. With the firepower they have — even without Vela and the departed Adama Diomande — scoring goals should not be a problem. But two stats point to a potentially worrying sign.
|Season||Touches in Opp Box/Game||Crosses from Open Play/Game|
They still are second in the league in touches in the opponent's penalty area per game, but you can see there's been a dip.
The Black & Gold will have a chance to correct some of these issues on Wednesday night when they host the San Jose Earthquakes at Banc of California Stadium (10:30 pm ET | UniMás, TUDN in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). We'll see if it happens.