It’s safe to say, since coming into the league in 2018, Los Angeles FC have been the talk of the league, and with good reason. After a successful inaugural campaign that ended in a postseason appearance, the LA club followed it up with an historic 2019 campaign that saw them re-write the record books en route to the Western Conference Finals. After a Semi-Final victory that saw them finally defeat their rival, LA Galaxy, LAFC fell victim to an emotional letdown, losing to eventual MLS Champions, Seattle Sounders.
This season, Los Angeles face yet another first, their inaugural season in the Concacaf Champion’s League. While a majority of the record-setting squad is returning in season three, there are several positions up for contention as several young, talented, players start to open up eyes. This is a season that could see a lot more rotation amongst the squad than the previous two seasons.
Head Coach Bob Bradley returns to the helm for his third season as well, as the entire organization enters the year with one goal in mind, winning silverware. Bradley is no stranger to going with the player in form, however expect him to go with those more proven, once competitive play starts. This season as whole for LAFC, is about winning silverware. Expect them to put out their strongest squad, as much as they can. Whether it’s the Champion’s League, US Open Cup, or the MLS itself, Los Angeles want it all.
Tactics & Key Players
For LAFC, 2019 was about establishing their identity. Coming out in a 4-3-3 for almost all of last season, they found a style of play that worked for them, and never wavered from it. Expect more of the same this season, with just minor tweaks in terms of tactics regarding player responsibilities.
If the preseason is any indication, Bob Bradley has given his front three complete freedom to move about the pitch as they see fit. MVP, Carlos Vela, may start as a RW, but don’t be surprised to see him in the striker role for chunks of time, or for LW, Brian Rodriguez, to attack from the right. This year will be a bit of a shell game in that regard, but make no mistake, the majority of goals will still likely be from the left foot of superstar, Vela.
Goalkeeper : A big factor in the departure of Tyler Miller this offseason, was the play of 24-year-old, Pablo Sisniega at the end of last season. However, things got interesting when LAFC brought in 34-year-old Kenneth Vermeer. After a great preseason debut from the veteran, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be the number one. Luckily, LAFC open Concacaf play prior to the MLS season, and it’s very likely that the keeper given the nod in that match, will be the favorite for number one, going forward.
Defenders : Another position in flux, only two names are likely the first on the team sheet, Walker Zimmerman, and Tristan Blackmon. Last season, and so far this year, Bradley has used his fullbacks in a more, wing-back, type role. Often times you will see either the LB or RB playing near the box when on attack, looking to service passes in for the attackers. That means that while Jordan Harvey has the experience, it could be Diego Palacios given the nod on the left side. Harvey has played a bit in the center back position during preseason, likely due to Eddie Segura being away on International duty, but is noteworthy as it could be something Bradley tests out during the season. Whoever starts, expect a common rotation of Zimmerman, Segura, Harvey, Palacios, and Blackmon along the back.
(Author Update: Obviously, done before the Zimmerman move, with him gone my predicted 4 is Palacios, Harvey, Segura and Blackmon. Aside from that, enjoy the LAFC insight as you get ready to build your squad!)
Midfielders : While there have been several impressive performances in the preseason, expect the midfield to already be set. Eduard Atuesta has been away on International duty, but his spot should be a given. The Colombian was the most important player, next to Vela, for LAFC last season. Mark-Anthony Kaye, who has been held out of preseason as he recovers from injury sustained last season, will also be a likely starter. Latif Blessing will round out the midfield, as he continues to do well in preseason. The only question, will be how much rotation does Bradley use. Last season saw little change, when healthy, to the regular starting XI. However, Alejandro Guido, who spent all of last year out with injury, has had a very impressive preseason, and could see significant minutes with LAFC playing extra matches. Two other names to monitor, Adrien Perez, who will see a spike in minutes as well, but it remains to be seen if that will be at mid, or if he will be given a chance in the attack. In addition, Francisco Ginella, who is a new signing. While I don’t see him breaking into the starting XI right away, he could see minutes, again, dependent on how often the squad is rotated this year.
Forwards : This is the easiest position group I can confidently predict in terms of starting. Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi will start, a lot, along the wings. It was recently announced Adama Diomande suffered a broken foot, and will miss the first part of the season, with a timetable yet to be determined. That leaves a hole at striker that will almost surely be filled by 19-year-old Brian Rodriguez. The youngster has shown a huge leap in his first full season with the club, and I expect him to be given a ton of minutes. With questions surrounding Rossi and a possible move to Europe, expect LAFC to try and keep the team together, at least until the timetable for Dio’s return is made more clear. Aforementioned Adrien Perez has seen preseason minutes in the striker role, and has scored in two of the three matches, so it is possible he too, sees minutes in attack, but should Dio return, expect him to return as a starter.
The most notable news is injury to Adama Diomande, who was set to start regularly in attack this season. The only departures of note, Tyler Miller and Lee Nguyen, but don’t expect either departure to effect the success of this squad.
Returning from such a successful season means most of the players on LAFC will break the bank, especially someone like Carlos Vela. However, with the squad playing more matches, and the rise in form to several players, there are a few flyers to keep in mind. Adrien Perez and Alejandro Guido will see a significant amount of minutes, at worst, coming off the bench as subs. Perez has been in goal-scoring form during preseason play, and could be worth a pick-up as he looks to bring that form to MLS play.
Unfortunately, a majority of this team will be pricey, but rest assured, you get your money’s worth. The bargains in this squad will be find among those currently on the bubble, looking to breakthrough. Mark-Anthony Kaye has suffered injuries each of the previous two seasons, and while it’s unfair to say he’s injury prone, picking up someone like Guido or Perez would be wise. With LAFC playing the first-round of Concacaf before the end of February, expect those lineups to be a bit more indicative of who will start the MLS opener come March.
This will almost certainly be the starting XI when LAFC kick-off their third MLS campaign. The only question, is Jordan Harvey. While Bob Bradley is the type to select those who have proven themselves within the squad, it is also clear that Palacios is the better option in terms of tactical fit. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harvey at CB in place of Segura.