Armchair Analyst: What 2020 meant in MLS, club by club

There were other big moments for LAFC – four-goal wins over each of their California neighbors certainly count for something – but this was one of the biggest continental wins by any team in LAFC history. MLS.

And guess what? They still have a chance to win the thing. LAFC will face Cruz Azul in the round of 16 in what became a knockout tournament in Orlando starting in mid-December.

Is 2020 crazy enough for an MLS team to finally break into the CCL?

LOW LIGHT: LAFC had more low points in 2020 than in their first two years combined, including some pretty gruesome losses to El Trafico following the MLS is Back tournament, which followed a disappointing shootout loss to PK in the quarter-finals of the tournament itself. And then there was only one point to take in their last two games, which sent them one game away on the road in Seattle to open the playoffs.

But it was said that the road game in Seattle was to mark the low point, right? Last year, the Sounders came to downtown Los Angeles and spiked LAFC to death; this year they just pounded them. Seattle scored early in the first half, they scored again midway through the second half, then when LAFC recovered one to make it 2-1 late, it took Jordan three minutes Morris to find the knockout blow.

Given how well LAFC outscored the Sounders in the Round of 16 in Orlando in July, it looked like the balance of power might have shifted with those two teams. The next four months proved that assumption to be very, very wrong.

REVELATION:BWPthere is still juice in the tank! LAFC snapped up the 35-year-old for next to nothing before the season and he made 8g/6a in just under 1,100 minutes, leading the league in G+A/90 and putting in throwback performances. . He was a big part of the reason the attack kept humming even as Vela was pushed aside and Brian Rodriguez underperformed in front of goal.

It really is the perfect situation for Wright-Phillips, who is brilliant at creating space for his teammates with his off-ball movement (watch the run he makes on that embedded Rossi goal above) and finding the space they create for him. He’s an ideal second or third fiddle in a cerebral, mobile offense — something LAFC has been almost from day one.

It’s like with Wondo: I firmly believe that BWP can continue to score in his 40s because he’s so smart. LAFC probably shouldn’t plan to take more than 2,000 minutes from him next year, but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t find a way to bring him back.

DISAPPOINTMENT: The biggest has to be that they traded Zimmerman with no apparent plan to replace him, and that gaping injury in central defense has cost them points throughout the year. They finally brought in some Colombians Jesus Murillo late in the season and he was good, but not good at Zimmerman’s level.

But even worse is what happened at right-back. Nashville robbed LAFC on $350,000 in stipend cash for the No. 1 spot in the awarding order, which LAFC then used on Andy Najarpresumably to fill the void created when they left Steven Beitashour walk after the 2019 season.

Najar started just one game and played only eight, and stayed on the pitch for a total of 180 minutes. He was clearly just a shell of himself and LAFC declined his contract option after the season.

Just completely bizarre to break what had been the league’s second-best defense in 2019.


Five players to build around:

  • Blessing Latif (CM): The main reason LAFC hasn’t been able to press as much this year is because Blessing has had to patch holes too often at the RB, either on the wing or deeper in midfield. Pick it up as destroying #10 and watch the press return.
  • Mark-Anthony Kaye (CM): He makes the game so smooth and easy on both sides of the ball, and is arguably the best two-way central midfielder in the league when healthy.
  • Eddie Segura (BC): Segura certainly wasn’t quite as good in 2020, but that applies to almost everyone on this list. Bob Bradley needs to figure out how to bring the best XI caliber version of the kid we’ve all seen in 2019.
  • Wright-Phillips (FW): Yes, they declined his contract option and BWP is technically a free agent. But I guess they find a way to do something.
  • Vela (RW): Injured, almost 32 years old and not in top form? He still had 4g/2a in just 510 minutes in MLS competitions and lit Leon on fire in the CCL. He will be back.

OFF-SEASON PRIORITY: Ok, Vela will be back, but will Rossi? Rodríguez? What about young LB Diego Palacios or CM Jose Cifuentes, both members of the Ecuadorian national team in their own right? Where does Francisco Ginelle fit in?

All of these questions are huge. My guess is that Rossi and Rodriguez will both be sold as soon as the transfer window opens on January 1, and that’s fine – developing and selling these types of players is clearly something LAFC has invested a ton of money in. time and resources. makes sense both for who they are and who they want to be, and it also makes sense for what the world of football is about and how everyone except Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and PSG , should work. Everyone but these four sells clubs. In this context, everyone must be replaceable to one degree or another.

Edward Atuesta maybe not, though. Vela is the better player but Atuesta was the most indispensable, as LAFC went 3-5-0 with a -6 goal differential when he didn’t start. The five losses were by multiple goals. When he started, LAFC was 7-4-6 with a +17 goal differential (all MLS competition) and just one multi-goal loss.

As with Rossi and Rodriguez, there are giant clubs in giant leagues preparing giant eight-figure offers for Atuesta. This is how the world of football works.

We’ll see what that means for LAFC in 2021.

Colorado Rapids

They fought COVID-19, they dealt with some regression and they traded their top scorer. A gif is worth a thousand words:

They had to dodge so much throughout the year, and sometimes it seemed impossible. But mostly they did – until the very end, when they were completely crushed.

But 2020 represented an undeniable step forward.

TACTICS & TRAINING: Robin Fraser has very clear ideas about how he wants his team to play, usually keeping one winger high and wide with the other passing to be a playmaker, keeping the d-midback as something ‘a regista and playing his centre-forward almost like a false 9, which then opens up holes for the No.10 — Cole Bassettwhich you’ll learn more about in a minute — for making late-night, high-impact runs.

The goal is to make the pitch as wide as possible and force the opponent to defend from sideline to sideline, and they were often very good at this while playing what was nominally a 4- 2-3-1, although as with any modern trainer it became more of a 3-2-2-3 (or sometimes a 3-2-3-2) once they were really on the front foot, in possession in attack.

Forcing opponents to defend wide also meant that the rapids were wide enough, and therefore wide open, to be counterattacked themselves. That was their main weakness, though I really enjoyed watching Fraser sacrifice some pragmatism for principle and aesthetics.

STRONG POINTS: After a massive COVID-19 breakout within the squad in late September, the Rapids missed a month of football. They trained in their first match, then lost their second on an unfortunate own goal from Lalas Abubakar. All the good work they had done in the first game of September, which included that massive and unprecedented Rocky Mountain Cup victory (scroll down to the RSL section, Rapids fans), seemed to be unraveling.

Now look again at that schedule the Rapids had coming out of their Covid-enforced hiatus: at Sporting, at Minnesota, at Seattle, at Portland, then at Houston. The top four are just a meat grinder, and Colorado had already lost the top two, and all of a sudden their playoff dreams were gone.

They crushed Seattle 3-1 at home, then went to Portland for a 1-0 win. They ended the year with a 2-1 win at Houston.

Nine points on that particular five-game streak would have been a major achievement, even under the best of circumstances. Under these special circumstances, with the playoffs on the line and rust to shed and still figuring out life after Kei Kamara? The Rapids have much to be proud of.

LOW LIGHT: I’m not going to consider the road loss to Minnesota in the playoffs a low point, considering there was quite a bit of stackup against Colorado even being in the playoffs in the first place. The simple fact is that they were coached by a better team on the road. This is what is supposed to happen.

What’s not supposed to happen is the Rapids’ listless and disengaged display this summer in Orlando as they took just one point from three games, a run of poor form that continued. for three games until early September after exiting the bubble. There was nothing fun, open or engaging about the way they played, and it seemed that the magic that Conor Casey and then Fraser conjured up last year was gone.

REVELATION: It can’t be anyone other than Bassett, who won the starting job for good in mid-September just as the Rapids started to climb in the standings (the two things are related).

I’ve had a lot of conversations about Bassett with MLS and USMNT obsessed friends and we all would have come to the same conclusion: he’s a good athlete and he does a lot of things well, and he’s often in the right place to help. a sequence of play or stifle an opponent’s sequence before it begins. But it’s not like he’s a breakthrough athlete, and it’s not like his touch or his vision really comes off the screen, and it’s not like he’s such a big winner ball that he was an obvious future d-mid. What exactly does he do?


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