In the 2022 MLS season, LAFC plays a game of two halves, both of which eventually lead to success. After a scoreless first half, the club always finds the back of the net in the second 45.
For the black & gold, it is not about possession, more so than creating opportunities when it counts. LAFC scores goals in a multitude of ways from a multitude of players. As a result, the Falcons earned their status as overwhelming favorites to win the western conference and, eventually, MLS Cup.
Yet, LAFC’s ambitious signings signal more intent than just domestic success. Recent acquisitions include former Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini and Welsh forward Gareth Bale. Bale is an especially interesting signing due to his added threat to opponents. Despite the fact that the Welshman uses LAFC as a tune-up ahead of the World Cup, his first season in MLS is remarkable nonetheless.
Already making a presence, Bale joins a number of other strong options for one of the newest sides in the American top soccer league.
Carlos Vela, another hot commodity for LAFC, signed an 18-month contract extension back in June. Combine Vela with the goal-scoring prowess of Cristian Arango. Evidently, LAFC flaunts an already successful offensive strategy.
LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo has the option of bringing one of Bale or Arango off the bench as a lethal 12th man. Meanwhile, Vela reprises his playmaking role with distribution. The interchangeable options connect seamlessly. Moreover, Bale offers the depth. Back-to-back matches often deplete mainstays on the starting XI.
Jose Cifuentes is another option for the American boss. Cifuentes is another name to feature from LAFC at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar as he represents Ecuador. For LAFC, he provides another clinical option at the head of the attack. Most notably, his two headers scored in their 3-2 victory over cross-town rivals, L.A. Galaxy, lit a fuse.
LAFC’s defense is not exactly shorthanded, either. Cifuentes’s compatriot, Diego Palacios, is the first-choice left-back for LAFC. He is an intricate defensive piece alongside Chiellini.
Contrary to many MLS teams, LAFC avoids clearing the ball aimlessly up the field. Their attackers make opposing defenders chase down the flank. Consequently, this creates space inside the 18-yard box. Also, these forwards use their speed to cleave into a hole, then crack a shot into the goalmouth, catching the keeper sleeping.
Together, this stacked roster executes their signature trademark by displaying ‘overlapping runs.’ This tactic creates a decoy for opposing defenders to follow. The ensuing space created allows opportunities for a ball handler in the box. Bale, Vela, Arango or any other player can use a quick release with a snap shot off the dribble. The ball marauds into the back of the net with ease for the side.
A New Morale
Giorgio Chiellini’s moxie influences the group morale. Since the Italian captain’s arrival, LAFC performed without urgency. Instead, it takes its time in the defensive third, only pressing forward at proper times. Before Chiellini’s arrival, the black & gold were quick to attack into the final third. That level of urgency did not always work in LAFC’s favor.
Nevertheless, Chiellini’s infamous handball against Real Salt Lake proved that even a nine-time Scudetto champion could make a mistake by pressing too high. Constant pressure exposes the defense to breakaways from the opposing team.
With an increased level of facilitation from defenders, there comes a decrease in Carlos Vela’s activity. But, ultimately, it results in conserved energy. As a result, the former Mexican national transmutes energy during hold-up plays, retaining ball possession as attackers make runs.
LAFC hybrid strategies for success
Turning defense into offense is part of the reason LAFC is this season’s most successful MLS side.
LAFC transitions its style with each respective match. Their current team utilizes every position to its fullest potential. Various players score goals, capitalizing on sitters, and the occasional screamer from outside the box.
As a result, they can dominate teams like Charlotte FC, winning 4-1 by conceding a consolation goal. It can also win the close games, such as a narrow win at Nashville, 2-1, in what was an even fixture throughout.
That stems from using different tactics. Blitzing the opposition for goals is a common strategy, and a fun one at that. However, LAFC defeated Wayne Rooney’s DC United by scoring one goal. The side hunkered down at the back and prevented a 10-man DC United from grabbing an equalizer. LAFC keeps their shape and lets their opponent come after them. As a result, they control the space, not the ball.
Individually, Cristian Arango is on a roll, scoring goals all season. A reliable finisher like Arango uses his peripheral vision and goalpost awareness to capitalize on challenging plays. The Colombian striker allows Vela to create space since LAFC has shown to score goals down the center. Bombarding the center infiltrates the midfield, throwing defenders off balance.
In addition, Vela has gained momentum as a playmaker. As a second forward, he creates chances for strikers, often using the outside of his left with his famous ‘Hollywood pass’ – a harmless-looking long ball. Even then, as Gareth Bale transitions into his role on the starting XI, Arango has shown to shift positions, becoming more Vela-like with playmaking and setting up Bale for finishes.
The Heart of L.A.
There is a genuine camaraderie at LAFC, unlike many clubs whose players possess ulterior motives. Frequently, such players refrain from passing to a wide-open teammate because they do not want the other player to steal their thunder. With LAFC, this is not the case – they are wholly unselfish.
Dubbed as ‘The 3252’, the fervent patronage of 3,252 fans filling the north end bleachers at Banc of California Stadium chant to an endless drumbeat that lasts 90 minutes. With such a fantastic supporters union and genius ownership, LAFC’s success could lead to it becoming the best team in CONCACAF.
PHOTO: Fernando Leon/ISI Photos/Getty Images
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