Los Angeles FC

Major League Soccer

MLS takes big step with All-Star Game update

1 Comment

For the first time since 2004, the Major League Soccer All-Star team has a new opponent.

In a press conference in Los Angeles, MLS commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla jointly made the announcement that the 2020 MLS All-Star Game would test the best players from MLS against the top stars in Liga MX, with the match set to take place on July 29 at Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium.

The news of MLS taking on the Liga MX all-stars is the realization of an idea that has been floated by fans and media members for the last few years. The annual MLS All-Stars vs. club giant had grown stale in recent years, especially since those clubs weren’t ever incentivized to take the game seriously. Big stars might have only played one half, if at all, as they built match fitness for the start of their seasons in Europe, and it ultimately is a bad marker for MLS.

If MLS really wants to compare itself with other top leagues in the world, then there’s no better an opponent than Liga MX. The Mexican first division has continued to basically wipe the floor with MLS clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League, though this season Atlanta United did triumph over Club America in the Campeones Cup.

In addition, MLS may have a decent chance to beat Liga MX in an all-star game. The talent at the very top of MLS is arguably higher than in Mexico, though the Liga MX clubs are stacked with talent in the middle of the rosters, which is where MLS clubs are exploited year after year. However, if it’s Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela, and Nicolas Lodeiro up front for the MLS All-Star squad, they could have a very good shot to succeed.

“We are so pleased to bring the 2020 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target to Los Angeles, one of the great soccer markets in North America,” Garber said in the press conference. “As we celebrate our 25th season, we wanted to deliver an unique and unprecedented format for our annual All-Star Game. Our first ever game between the best of MLS and LIGA MX’s top players is the perfect way to build on the growing relationship between the two top soccer leagues in the region.”

It’s unclear whether this will be a recurring match in the future. However, moving away from the prior all-star game model will help MLS grow as a league and catch up to Liga MX in the long wrong.

Three things we learned from LAFC-Seattle (video)

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
1 Comment

The game in 200 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders are headed back to MLS Cup for the third time in four years after knocking off the best regular-season team in MLS history, Los Angeles FC, Tuesday night in the Western Conference final. The Sounders went into Banc of California Stadium and shocked the world with a stellar team performance, most notably from their backline and center forward Raul Ruidiaz, who scored twice on the night. Midfield maestro Nicolas Lodeiro bagged Seattle’s other goal as the Sounders scored three unanswered after Eduard Atuesta opened the scoring in the 17th minute. Should Atlanta United advance past Toronto FC in Wednesday’s Eastern Conference final, Seattle will play for MLS Cup away from home for the third time during their stellar run.

[ VIDEO: Every touch from Christian Pulisic v. Burnley ]

Three things we learned

1. Time to recognize Ruidiaz among elites: Josef Martinez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (rightly) have each received plenty of plaudits for their prolific goal-scoring records as center forwards, but Ruidiaz should be mentioned in the same breath as some of the best to ever do it in MLS. He’s not even two seasons into his time in Seattle, but the Peruvian international has displayed a ruthless nose for goal while also contributing to the Sounders’ attack in ways the aforementioned no. 9s rarely do.

If you watch the below clip, you’ll see Joevin Jones picking up the assist and Lodeiro finishing with pinpoint precision, but what you won’t see is Ruidiaz’s turn out of trouble on the other side of midfield and his subsequent dribbling into the final third before laying the ball off to Jones. The Sounders defense was set up to absorb lots of pressure, but providing them these moments of respite, let alone getting the goal, were so important to Brian Schmetzer’s gameplan.

Then there’s the other part of his no. 9 duties — the lethal finishing touch — that makes him a potential game-winner every time he steps on the field.

2. LAFC start slow again. This time, they never recovered: LAFC needed a good 10 minutes to wake up before putting five past the LA Galaxy last week. Again on Tuesday, Bob Bradley‘s side started sluggishly and found itself on the back foot for the opening 15 minutes. Then, almost as if on cue, the Black and Gold sprang to life with Eduard Atuesta’s stunning free kick.

Only this time, unlike when they faced the Galaxy, LAFC’s period of control was short-lived. Seattle, a group that’s been through the rigors of the playoffs together, stuck to their low defensive block and soaked up the pressure in low-leverage areas of the field and got out on the counter-attack at every opportunity. It paid immediate dividends.

LAFC’s greatest strengths lie in their forward and midfield lines, which makes it hugely important to pick the right pass immediately after winning the ball back. Fortunately for Seattle, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson are two of the smartest players in the league and they make the right decision nine times out of 10. This gives the likes of Ruidiaz, Lodeiro and Jordan Morris a few extra looks every game. Once you bypass the first wave of pressure from the LAFC midfield, their defense is highly suspect.

3. Rossi moved to the left too late: For 45 minutes, Diego Rossi — and Carlos Vela, to a large extent — were anonymous, inconsequential figures. Brad Smith customarily tore up and down the left side of Seattle’s attack, pinning Rossi deeper and deeper as the first half wore on. Bradley switched the Uruguayan to the other side of the field at halftime, and his impact was immediate.

The knock-on effect with Vela is obvious, as each of LAFC’s attacking stars operates best when linking directly or indirectly with one another. Whether playing on the right or through the middle, Rossi frees up Vela, either with their combined movement and passing or the attention he commands as a goal threat himself.

Schmetzer got his tactics spot-on, while Bradley whiffed with a thoroughly curious decision to deviate from something that worked to devastating effect for seven months.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Raul Ruidiaz

Goalscorers: Atuesta (17′), Ruidiaz (22′, 64′), Lodeiro (26′)

LIVE, MLS Cup Playoffs — LAFC v. Seattle, Western Conference final

Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The first of two places in MLS Cup 2019 is set to be booked Tuesday night, when no. 1-seed Los Angeles FC host the Seattle Sounders at Banc of California Stadium in the Western Conference final (10 p.m. ET).

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

All season long, LAFC tore the rest of MLS apart en route to a league-record points tally. The playoffs, however, will draw a very important distinction for LAFC: best regular-season team ever, or best team ever? After beating the LA Galaxy, for the first time ever, in the conference semifinals last Thursday, Bob Bradley‘s side is now just 180 minutes (or 210, or 240) from lifting MLS Cup and making its case as MLS’s best ever.

To reach  — and host — the final on Nov. 10, though, they’ll have to knock off a Sounders side making its third West final appearance in four seasons. Brian Schmetzer’s side survived a riveting first-round scare from FC Dallas before dispatching Real Salt Lake — and the career of Nick Rimando — a week ago.

Check back on PST following the final whistle for a full recap and analysis as one team books its place is MLS Cup.

Three things we learned from LAFC-LA Galaxy (video)

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The game in 200 words (or less): If at first (and second and third and fourth and fifth) you don’t succeed, try try again. Los Angeles FC, on their sixth time of asking, have finally beaten the LA Galaxy and did so in the highest-stakes meeting of the LA rivals — Thursday’s Western Conference semifinal at Banc of California Stadium, by the final score of 5-3. The game, as it tends to do when these sides meet, swung wildly in all directions. LAFC went 2-0 up through Carlos Vela, but it was 2-1 less than 60 seconds later. Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up the Galaxy’s first goal and scored their second just before the hour mark. Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande hit back in quick succession in the 66th and 68th minutes. Rolf Feltscher drew the Galaxy back to within a goal in the 77th, but Diomande put the game to bed three minutes later. Built up as the most hyped game in recent, if not all of, MLS history, LAFC versus LA Galaxy lived up to and surpassed the hype once again.

[ MORE: Frank Lampard praises Christian Pulisic ]

Three things we learned

  • Big game, big stars: Vela showed up early and often, while Ibrahimovic arrived fashionably late and with a bit of assistance up the stairs to the main level of the party. Vela was sensational and highly influential once everyone in Black and Gold found their footing after a rocky opening 10 minutes.

There was also this stunning through ball from Ibrahimovic to set up Cristian Pavon for the Galaxy’s first goal. That was just about it from the big Swede, though, as he was forced deeper and deeper into midfield to get on the ball. Vela and Rossi were involved in absolutely everything, from winning the ball back on the press, to springing the counter-attacks, to setting up goals and finishing them off. At the end of the day, the youth and mobility of LAFC’s stars won out against the mega-stardom of the Galaxy’s main man.

  • VAR (What is it good for): It sure looks like Brian Rodriguez is narrowly offside as Latif Blessing, who impacted this game in a dozen different ways, plays the through ball prior to Rodriguez setting up the easiest goal of Vela’s season. It’s close, no doubt about it, but what better time than a decisive moment in a pivotal playoff game to make sure the call is correct with 100 percent certainty?

It should be noted that it’s always possible the camera angle paints a somewhat murky picture, but if video review is a tool made available so referees can get potentially missed calls correct, why not use it when you’ve got a potentially missed call that doesn’t require any interpretation of the rule?

  • Defense optional: If you expected anything different from these teams, given their previous five meetings which averaged — averaged — 4.8 goals per game, that is entirely your own fault. Defending has been the Galaxy’s achilles heel for going on five seasons now, so much so that the jokes almost aren’t even worth making anymore. They were always going to lose to LAFC at some point — it couldn’t go on forever — and it was almost certainly going to be largely down to their own incompetent defending, coupled with LAFC’s obvious brilliance, that did them in. LAFC were a far better defensive side in the regular season — much of that was always down to the amount of possession they held and their suffocating press, so it stands to reason they’ll be fine in the back half as these playoffs wear on. If, however, some of the goals LAFC conceded weren’t just a one-off, the final three games are suddenly far from the foregone conclusion they were 48 hours ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Carlos Vela

Goalscorers: Vela (16′, 40′), Pavon (41′), Ibrahimovic (55′), Rossi (66′), Diomande (68′, 80′), Feltscher (78′)

LIVE, MLS Cup Playoffs — Atlanta host Philly, LAFC v. LA Galaxy

Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Strap yourself in for another wild night of 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs action, as each the Eastern and Western Conference semifinals are set to wrap up Thursday night.

One of Thursday’s two games features the defending champions, while the other features this year’s championship favorites taking on their crosstown rivals and the biggest ego star to ever grace MLS.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

First up, Josef Martinez and no. 2 Atlanta United will host no. 3 Philadelphia Union (8 p.m. ET) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta failed to be Philadelphia in either of the sides’ two regular-season meetings this year, drawing 1-1 at home back in March and losing 3-1 away in August.

Then, it’s The Big One, El Trafico, Round 3: Los Angeles FC hosting LA Galaxy (10:30 p.m. ET). Carlos Vela versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic. New money versus old money. The second-year juggernaut versus the league’s all-time legacy club. LAFC are yet to beat the Galaxy in five tries since joining MLS. Will tonight be the night, or will the Galaxy ruin the greatest statistical (regular) season in MLS history?

Last night’s conference semifinals saw Toronto FC go on the road and knock off New York City FC, the top seed in the East, with a late goal from the penalty spot; Seattle Sounders ended Real Salt Lake’s season — and Nick Rimando’s career — with a 2-0 victory at CenturyLink Field.

Check back on PST following tonight’s final whistles for a full recap and analysis as the conference final round gets set.