Atlanta United will fly out to Los Angeles to play 2019 MLS Cup Champions LAFC on Friday in another edition of Five Stripes after dark. Usually I go back and forth and tell you about each team, but I don’t know what kind of hope any team in the league has at all against LAFC. They’re scary. They’re so scary that J. Sam Jones called them cool, don’t let that fool you. There’s a quote Sam got from LeVar Burton in his article which he describes someone being cool as, “They are confidently, even unconsciously unattached.” I think this deserves some deeper examination... mostly the part about being unconsciously unattached.
I think another way of looking at that statement is that LAFC is beating everything that they see into submission and making their opponents unconscious and unattached to being good at soccer. The Black and Golds or slow-mo angel hat roster announcement team or whatever they are called are having the best year in MLS history and it’s hard to see how they will slow down anytime soon. Put aside the loss to Zlatan, it’s clear that he had a point to prove and he damn proved it, that’s about the only thing that will stop LAFC this year.
Aside from his point on the field, the point he made off of it before El Traffico about Carlos Vela being Messi in a league full of college graduates also beckons an examination. Dump on Carlos Vela for coming to MLS and scoring goals on guys named Brett Levis and roster fillers who wouldn’t sniff the lineup in most top five leagues all you want, he’s scoring the goals and having the best season in MLS history. Along the way, LAFC is having a great year all around. They have allowed just 20 goals in 21 games and have scored 55 goals, in case you’re wondering that’s a lot of goals; only 10 teams scored 55 or more goals in all of last year and they still have 13 games to go.
Bobby Warshaw gave a great look at what makes LAFC so special (yes, calm down, Atlanta already proved this point last year and I agree with you, I’d like to see what they do when Bob Bradley decides to go manage Scunthorpe United or something) and noted that they do the following things very well all the time:
Know what they are going to do with the ball before they get the ball
Shape their bodies before they receive a pass
Read their teammates to understand where to move next
Understand the moments for killer passes and safe passes
Go for their moments of magic in the right zones on the field
React immediately after every turnover
Press as a group
Vary their defensive approaches to keep opponents guessing
In short, LAFC is like if they were a bear, a bear named Miguel Almiron or Yamil Asad, it does not care about you or your problems. Your pepper spray is only a delicious condiment it enjoys before devouring your soul and that bear bell you bought at the ranger station only alerted it to the fact that dinner has arrived. I don’t know much about soccer, but I know that when you see bears just go back to your car, it’s the bears world you only get to visit for a while. NO, DON’T YELL HEY BEAR THAT WILL JUST HASTEN YOUR DEMISE.
So what about Atlanta United, what can the Five Stripes do to stop this team, or slow them down, or not be embarrassed? Right, Josef could go off, that’s within the realm of possibility, let’s draw up that game plan, can Herculez Gomez do an interview with him before the game? Emmerson Hyndman could continue his incredible rise as a solid player after being cast in the nether regions of Great British soccer... Otherwise, it’s hard to say. Making the game ugly in the middle of the field might work out. Marking Carlos Vela out of the game seems like it would be a viable option, but Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta can probably find a way to make it not worth doing. Luckily, maybe, Atlanta worked out the defensive struggles against DC United and the Houston game was the Houston game. Still, it’s hard to believe that Atlanta will keep LAFC scoreless for just the third time this year.
Not only that, but the team was sorta shown as defensive frauds in the first four games back from the Copa Oro break and another way to look at the wins against Houston and DC are that Atlanta stomped a team with 10 players and won a game at the death. So the best chance might be opening things up and seeing if the attackers can go punch for punch with LAFC’s high flying attack. But that’s a big ole might and isn’t what FdB is all about.
With Frank de Boer’s more controlled approach coming against Bob Bradley’s chaos driven madness, which looks an awful lot like Tata Martino’s chaos driven madness, the match will be one of contrasts. Perhaps the return of Ezequiel Barco, should he start, along with the emergence of Atlanta United hero Pity Martinez will be enough of a spark to push the game toward’s Atlanta’s favor. Perhaps this might also just be another game that LAFC descends on its unknowing prey from an unseen vantage and rips it limb from limb in a cloud of pepper spray as it has against anyone who doesn’t have Zlatan or play in Colorado.