What Are They All About? LAFC
Eliminated. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire lost on the road to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. The result, their sixteenth defeat of the season, mathematically assured what had been essentially true since the beginning of the summer, that this side is not a playoff side. A first half that was not aesthetically pleasing but effective in stifling one of the best attacking sides in the league showed promise and the potential for points before some bizarre tactical and personnel choices in the second half ensured defeat within five minutes of the restart.
Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez will have a lot to answer for in the coming weeks as it has become abundantly clear that their tenure has statistically been one of the worst periods in the club’s history. They still have four matches left in the season to parade around the Process but belief around Toyota Park has reached new lows for the franchise. The march towards the end of a merciless campaign continues this Saturday against LAFC (2:30 CT on Univision).
The expansion side enters this encounter on impressive form—unbeaten in six—and although they are ten points adrift of the Supporters Shield title, they can still secure a bye in the first round of the playoffs over their last five matches. LAFC’s maiden voyage couldn’t have been written any better in Hollywood (pun intended) and a victory over Chicago could see them return to the top of the Western Conference standings on Saturday. Will the Fire play spoiler to some of their former stars, or will the Black and Gold take all three points back to the City of Angels? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
LAFC Form Guide (All Competitions): W-D-W-D-W
Previous Result: A 2-0 home win against San Jose.
Formation: 4-3-3; Miller; Beitashour, Jakovic, Zimmerman, Harvey; Blessing, Nguyen, Atuesta; Rossi, Vela, Diomande
Strengths: Securing a playoff berth in your first MLS season is no easy task. Only Chicago, Atlanta, and Seattle have managed to earn post-season berths since the league introduced expansion in 1998 and LAFC is on the cusp of joining that group. A victory over Chicago coupled with a loss or draw for the LA Galaxy against Vancouver would be enough to make it official. Let’s see where the visitors might succeed on Saturday.
Love is a Burnin’ Thing: Despite this being the first ever meeting between these two sides, Saturday’s match will be a bit of a homecoming for this LAFC team. Ring of Fire members Bob Bradley and Ante Razov are both on the coaching staff (more about Bob below), while former players John Thorrington (General Manager) and Mike Sorber (Director of Soccer Operations) are both on the technical staff. Those four join a whole host of former players that are garnering success across the league with other clubs as players, coaches, technical directors, etc. and are shinning examples both of the glory days of past Fire regimes and of just how far the club has fallen under the stewardship of Andell Holdings. That group will have fond memories of the city and those winning days will fuel them to further success in this league, albeit with the visiting side.
It’s Bob’s World: Few decisions are as important in MLS as getting your head coaching hire right. Expansion sides have been able to capitalize on the buzz of a shiny new object in a new market before—the early days of Portland, Montreal, and Philadelphia come to mind—but no amount of hype, no stadium, and no amount of grass roots support goes as far as results spurred on by handing the reins to the right person. Bob Bradley is that person for LAFC. He has made the correct decisions in every facet of building his roster and has executed his vision perfectly.
Speaking to him at last year’s 20th Anniversary Party, we were able to get a small glimpse at the system he was going to employ, the style he was going to play, and the personnel he wanted. All of it has come together this season and it certainly hasn’t been an accident. Everything from man management (getting the best out of Adama Diomande yet again—as highlighted by Sam Stejskal for mlssoccer.com) and reclamation projects (taking an out of sorts Lee Nguyen and integrating him into the group), to navigating roster rules (flipping an aging Laurent Ciman and a home sick Omar Gaber for league assets), Bradley has this league figured out.
Additionally, an attack-heavy style reliant on the youthful exuberance of Diego Rossi, Andre Horta, and Eduardo Atuesta has been perfectly balanced by the veteran leadership of league stalwarts like Jordan Harvey, Steven Beitashour, Benny Feilhaber, and Marco Urena. Did we mention that he utilized the DP (Carlos Vela) and MLS Draft (Joao Moutinho) mechanisms to perfection? Yeah, he did. Even his squad players—the likes of Christian Ramirez, Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye—would be starters elsewhere in the league but are happy to be taking part in a winning project. This franchise has not put a foot wrong in their inaugural season and the crowd at Toyota Park is in for a treat this weekend.
Weaknesses: While there are certainly flaws in any system, this section is largely irrelevant given the Fire’s predicament.
I’d Like to Continue Making a Living: While this might be cynical or a bit morose, the only thing the Chicago players have left to play for this season is their contracts. While “pride” would normally go here, this Fire side has not had that for a long time. Those domestic based players on contract options will want to prove that they can contribute next year while some of the players like Kappelhof, Solignac, and DeLeeuw will be looking to impress potential suitors for next season.
Prediction: This week doesn’t get any better for the Fire as they will lose at home to a team lead by Chicago legends. Fire 1-3 LAFC. Vela, Nguyen, and Diomande notch for the visitors, Nikolic scores for the hosts as he tries to attract European offseason suitors.