LOS ANGELES, CA – After stewing for a week in the putrid muck that was their 4-0 defeat in New Jersey last weekend, New York City FC travels cross-country to take on Los Angeles Football Club for the first time ever. In a match with the potential to live up to a Hollywood billing, NYCFC will be playing to exorcise the demons of their derby defeat. LAFC and coach Bob Bradley will also be in the midst of their first-ever stretch of short-turnaround matches, with a string of three in seven days.
Los Angeles FC
In their inaugural season, LAFC (6W-2L-1D; 19pts) have been forged in the same mold as Atlanta United – unafraid to spend or play boldly. One of two teams in the West with a PPG greater than 2, the Black and Gold find themselves just 4 points back from Sporting Kansas City for the Western Conference lead, with 2 games in hand.
LAFC’s attack has been the strength of the squad. Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, and Marco Ureña have found outstanding chemistry between them, with Vela leading the team in goals (5) plus Rossi and Ureña tied for the team lead in assists (4). Add some fire to the midfield with Latif Blessing and sprinkle in some veteran leadership with Benny Feilhaber and you have the makings of a very formidable squad. At the back, Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman man the center quite well, with Dejan Jakovic splitting time with the latter.
Less-known to most is midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye – a TFC Academy product getting regular minutes who leads the team in tackles/90 (3.6; for reference, Alex Ring has 2.9, and Yangel Herrera has 4.8). Kaye scored his first-ever MLS goal Wednesday night against Minnesota, while fellow newcomer Eduard Atuesta also grabbed his first tally in his second-ever start. Atuesta’s emergence comes at the expense of Ureña, who suffered facial fractures in the first half of LAFC’s match against Seattle two weeks ago (and somehow managed to still play the full 90 minutes).
But the story for LAFC will be “Who plays?” The most exciting possibility is that newly-acquired midfielder Lee Nguyen will get his first start. Nguyen was picked up from New England right at the end of the Primary Transfer Window for a hefty $700,000 in allocation money, with the potential additions of a draft pick and another $250,000 if certain conditions are met. His inclusion would possibly mean some rest for Vela, who has played all 810 minutes for LAFC this season, including 90+ Wednesday night.
New York City FC
“Honestly the reaction that I’ve had from the players the last couple of days in training has been positive, and we just have to keep working and try to improve every day ourselves.”
Patrick Vieira has been charged with re-focusing his squad after a rattling loss last weekend. His NYCFC is still second-best in the East, with the opportunity to re-take the top spot after Atlanta’s 2-0 midweek loss to Kansas City.
City has a positive record when travelling to the West Coast (5W-3L-1D; -1 GD since 2015), but the wear and tear of long flights – even if they’re chartered – combined with time changes and hotel accommodations are enough to throw anyone off their game.
Also in the “good news” column for City: Ronald Matarrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi have returned to full participation in training. Tajouri-Shradi’s return begs the question of who will get the start on the wings, with Jo Inge Berget playing himself into form, but the Swiss-Libyan attacking machine will surely at least get a bench spot in LA. Ben Sweat struggled mightily against the Red Bulls, but Vieira may keep him in to help restore his confidence, with Matarrita waiting for his opportunity.
Before his injury, Ureña led MLS in assists and LAFC were scoring 2.6 goals per game. His absence is undoubtedly felt, but the performances of Kaye and Atuesta have made it bearable. LAFC generally play a 4-2-3-1 and try to maintain the bulk of their possession in the midfield. They’re an opportunistic team to be sure, but not quite a counter-attacking team (LAFC have only one goal scored on a counter in 2018). They look to force errors in the midfield and capitalize on changes in possession, but they are patient enough to let a play develop instead of going for the breakaway.
As usual, the performance of both Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera will be important in stopping those midfield turnovers. NYCFC’s slow build from the back is a good counter to LAFC crowding the midfield, but it will be important that Anton Tinnerholm and whomever is playing Left Back not be stifled. If City can’t threaten down the wings, a crowded midfield could become a big problem and it’ll be Portland all over again – lots of passing around in our own third with nothing developing from it.
NYCFC haven’t lost two matches in a row since April of 2016. They face a tough challenge here – coming off a demoralizing loss, travelling across the country to play a team they’ve never faced before. On top of that, Bob Bradley could throw out a formation or strategy not yet employed by his squad with players rotating out for rest.
Whatever happens, it’s sure to be entertaining.
Los Angeles FC (4-2-3-1): Miller; Beitashour, Jakovic, Ciman, Moutinho; Atuesta, Feilhaber; Blessing, Kaye, Vela; Rossi
New York City FC (4-3-3): Johnson; Tinnerholm, Chanot, Callens, Sweat; Moralez, Ring, Herrera; Medina, Villa, Berget