Los Angeles FC – FC Dallas: LAFC Continue Dominant MLS Start With Routine Win Over FC Dallas (2-0)
On Thursday night, Los Angeles FC, who are making an early case as one of the strongest teams in MLS history already, picked up a relatively straightforward victory over a young and exciting FC Dallas team. Backed by first half-domination and the ability to convert their chances, Bob Bradley’s men continued to prove why fans and pundits alike have been raving about them thus far.
Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.
Led by Carlos Vela, LAFC have turned heads in the early stages of the season by how dominant they have been. Based off all attacking and defensive metrics available they are on course to be the strongest regular season team in the history of the league. Bob Bradley’s men looked to continue this form on Thursday night at home at the Banc of California stadium against FC Dallas and Luchi Gonzalez’s youth movement.
While not the same dominant attacking force as their opposition, FC Dallas do have a similar approach stylistically: a heavy possession-based system. While LAFC have built their model on a mix of superstars – Carlos Vela the notable star – and reliable pros, Dallas are almost entirely built around the strong academy the club has. This game would be a strong test of the club’s players and their commitment to this system.
LAFC opted to start with the system which had worked wonders all season, a 4-2-3-1 formation which spread out wide and utilized all areas of the pitch when they had the ball. While the attacking trident of Carlos Vela, Christian Ramirez and Diego Rossi were the biggest stars of the show thanks to their incredible levels of the production, the strong spine of Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura at the back give Bob Bradley and his team a reliable platform from which they can attack. They also provide LAFC with ability out of the back to break lines of defensive pressure and move the ball from back to front. As well, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta have proved similarly impressive both defensively and offensively. This balanced team from back to front fits in with the club’s ethos at pressing high from the front defensively.
LAFC’s possession which forced Dallas back into these positions, primarily in the first half.
FC Dallas manager Luchi Gonzalez, while typically employing a back four, switched to a back three signaling a more pragmatic approach in this tough away fixture. This pragmatic approach was likely one of necessity in the eyes of Dallas as injuries and absentees – USA under-20 star Paxton Pomykal being away on international duty – left them with fewer options then they would have liked. In a team as youth-heavy as Dallas this would be a big test, especially on the defenders. The onus to stop and create chances for the club would be on the shoulders of Bressan, Matt Hedges, and Reto Ziegler.
Dallas Unable To Sustain Possession While LAFC Dominate And Earn Their Lead
As mentioned previously, while Dallas have often times played a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, to counteract the strong offensive firepower of LAFC, Luchi Gonzalez and FC Dallas switched to a 3-4-2-1 which would provide them solidity out of possession, but not sacrificing the type buildup play they like to employ. Dallas’ possession from the back is one that seeks to lure out the opposition from their defensive structure and promote the press into their half. Once this space in behind is created, attention turns to hitting diagonal switches beyond. Key in this strategy were the center-backs Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, and the Brazilian player Bressan.
FC Dallas in a clear three-at-the-back formation.
Such is the strength of LAFC and their own possession-oriented approach, however, that FC Dallas were unable to utilize this strategy and create openings in behind. Bob Bradley is very much a coach who promotes a high-pressing system, and while Dallas have welcomed this and targeted this in the past, the sheer numbers and speed of players in advanced positions to force rushed clearances made it nigh-on impossible to play through Los Angeles’ midfield. To make matters worse, Zdeněk Ondrášek was left isolated up front on his own and could not hold up the balls Dallas were playing in behind Los Angeles’ defense. Ondrášek is a player who thrives off balls to feet, not in behind to chase.
It was rare to see an FC Dallas team so deep in their half, on the back foot, but with their positions in Bob Bradley’s double-pivot Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta picked up passes from their defense and broke the lines of Dallas’ midfield. Gonzalez’ men have struggled all season in regards to their structural soundness, and it was clear that these issues continued again Thursday. The attacking trio they employed were often detached from the rest of the team and fired out to apply pressure on LAFC seemingly at random. Thanks to Kaye and Atuesta clever countermovements off each other, they picked up the ball on the half turn at ease and found the dangerous feet of Carlos Vela, Latif Blessing, and Christian Ramirez around the edge of the box.
Right before the forty-minute mark, LAFC’s domination on the balance of play was rewarded with a goal from Major League Soccer’s MVP frontrunner, Carlos Vela. After a spell of possession forced Dallas back to defend in their own box, Atuesta stepped forward and found another defense splitting ball to Vela in the box, who turned and curled the ball into the far-post past Jesse González.
LAFC were very dominant in Zone 14, completing 11 of 18 passes into the box from this zone.
Dallas Generate Chances Thanks To Substitutions, But LAFC Convert Theirs
If the first half was less than impressive for Dallas, the second would be almost the polar opposite. However, they would come up empty handed nonetheless. Regardless of the final result, Dallas’ decision to abandon their 3-4-2-1 formation and switch to a more straightforward 4-4-2 shape at half-time was the catalyst for them gaining a foothold in the match.
The disappointing Michael Barrios was removed for Pablo Aránguiz, who formed a strike partnership with Ondrášek in attack. This simple change gave the team more of a foothold in attacking positions. The ball stuck whenever Dallas looked to play forward and because of this, the away side generated tons of opportunities on the counter to threaten LAFC. The recipient of these chances was the substitute Aránguiz, using his ability behind the back four – something his strike-partner lacked – to run in behind forced the likes of Zimmerman and Segura on their heels. Unfortunately, Aránguiz’ shots never troubled Tyler Miller in Los Angeles’ goal to give them an equalizer their play probably could have warranted.
Of course, with a new emphasis and caution to the wind from the away side, LAFC generated even more clear-cut chances on goal which forced goalkeeper Jesse González into action on numerous occasions. While he did perform admirably, arguably his club’s man of the match on the day, he could do little to prevent Diego Rossi from ending a personal goal-drought of close to six hundred minutes. The goal was initially ruled out but given after consultation of the video assistant referee. This second goal proved the deciding one as the final few minutes provided little opportunities to prevent or decrease the lead.
If one had never watched LAFC this season, it would have been evident almost immediately why they have been so successful this campaign. Bob Bradley has brought together an incredible balance of attacking play, and defensive discipline in Los Angeles; something many other clubs in Major League Soccer have been unable to do. Carlos Vela and the other attacking players provide the star power and convert chances to goals, while a strong spine littered with quality in possession in their own-right shut the door at the other end. On Thursday night, this ability to convert chances was why they beat FC Dallas, despite the similarities in their approach.
Few will be questioning the decision from Luchi Gonzalez to change systems against LAFC due to the number of issues regarding squad selection and the strength of the opposition. Still, it was clear that the half-time adjustments improved things tenfold for FC Dallas. Ultimately, these are the type of matches that will prove valuable for the club in the long-run. The major difference between them and Los Angeles was the ability to convert chances to goals. While LAFC took these with both hands, FC Dallas failed to do so.
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