Is the Champions League a help or a hindrance to the team when they shift gears to play league games at this stage of the season from your perspective? Will there be any squad rotation as a result of the CL game coming up?
I think Champions League is a positive in the opening 2-3 weeks for the MLS campaign, it gives those teams a little more fitness early in the season and the “CCL hangover” risk usually comes in April-May as the minutes pile up or the wacky way the team was eliminated eats away at the squad. It’s also nice that LAFC get a full week of rest for this game against the Union, so they should be fresh and energized ahead of a very busy two-week stretch.Considering the first CCL game against Cruz Azul will be Thursday, I think Bob Bradley will play effectively his first-choice lineup against Philadelphia, maybe one or two surprises, but it could really be the full-strength XI based on the options available. The squad rotation, such as it is, is likely to come for the next league game, not for Sunday’s match.
How has the team changed since we last saw them here in Chester in the fall and is there any reason to believe that this year’s LAFC team won’t be as dominant as last year’s?
There’s been a handful of changes for LAFC since last year: They traded goalkeeper Tyler Miller to Minnesota, brought in Dutch veteran Kenneth Vermeer to start, brought in young South American midfielders Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes, who will likely push for real minutes this year, let Steven Beitashour walk and traded away Walker Zimmerman, certainly the most puzzling decision. I’m pretty sure no one would argue that removing Zimmerman and not replacing him (so far) means LAFC’s defense is as strong as it was last year, but Dejan Jakovic has played surprisingly well in three games so far. It seems LAFC need to sign 1-2 more defenders to even approach the level they were at last year, but it’s an open question at the moment.
As for if LAFC will be as dominant as last year, it’s not easy to replicate that, but it’s definitely not impossible. If they can advance beyond the next round of CCL, that will almost certainly have an effect on league form, either immediately or down the line, but they return 8-9 starters from last season’s run, and most of those players are young to in their prime. LAFC were lucky with injuries last year, too, but we’ll have to see if they can weather adversity this year, whatever it might be.
We of course all know about what Carlos Vela can do - and by now most Union fans have probably seen his ludicrous chip from the other day - but who is the player that has the most impact on the pitch for LAFC that Union fans probably don’t know a lot about? What do the Union need to do to get a result on Sunday?
He’s been battling a knock, but Eduard Atuesta is likely to play against Philly if he’s healthy and he’s the best young player you probably haven’t noticed in MLS. The Colombian midfielder did make MLS Best XI last year, but he’s a two-way midfielder who excels at both aspects of that in a fairly tricky system. He’s the best direct free kick taker on the team, he sets the tempo for LAFC, he can make a good challenge and his passing is excellent. Atuesta needs to work on his composure in pressure-packed moments, but he is a top candidate to get a move to a decent situation Europe within the next two years.
Prediction for Sunday’s match?
I think LAFC will finally be rounding into some form, with a full week of rest, and will win 3-1.