With only one goal against in their first four games, DC United had the best defence in the league. LAFC, on the other hand, scored 15 goals in their first five games, making them the league top scorers. Both teams were undefeated in MLS this season, but it was LAFC who would break DC United’s unbeaten streak. This tactical analysis showcases how LAFC won the game.
DC United declined to make any changes to their shape after beating Orlando City last week. The team lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and only made one personnel change with Chris McCann replacing the injured Joseph Mora.
LAFC remained in a 4-3-3 formation after narrowly beating Sporting Kansas City early in the week. Bob Bradley made two personnel changes to his lineup. Latif Blessing replaced Lee Nguyen in the midfield and Adama Diomonde replaced Christian Ramirez as striker after scoring the injury-time winner against Kansas.
How it happened
DC United looked in control during the opening minutes, but couldn’t manage to create a substantial goal scoring opportunity. Then, in the 9th minute, DC United conceded a penalty after Leonardo Jara used his hand to block a Jordan Harvey cross. Bill Hamid saved Carlos Vela’s penalty to keep the score even.
Then on the 15th minute, Vela redeemed himself with a curling shot past Hamid. The chance came after Adama Diomonde capitalized on a mistake from DC’s midfield, allowing the visitors to explode into a 3vs2. Before halftime, LAFC scored two more goals from Diego Rossi. The first goal was a run into the box for a first-time finish and the second was a curling shot from inside the 18-yard box.
At half time the game seemed done and dusted, but DC had a glimpse of hope with Rooney and Acosta on the field. But on the 50th minute Wayne Rooney received a red card for a reckless tackle on Rossi.
DC United struggled to compete after losing their captain, and on the 76th minute, Rossi completed his hat trick. The game finished 0-4 for the visitors, who extended their MLS unbeaten run to six games this season.
DC United’s high press
DC United’s high pressing style has been a large contributor to their defensive success this season. Once again DC attempted this style against LAFC. In the match’s opening minutes, the system seemed to work.
The press put LAFC under pressure during the build-up, creating chances for DC United to start the counter-attack high up the field. In the following sequence, we can see an example of how DC United’s high press forced turnovers.
As the ball is played from LAFC’s Harvey to defensive midfielder Eduard Atuesta, Acosta closes down the target immediately. As he receives the ball, Atuesta has limited options. Acosta’s press prevents a switch of play, so Atuesta looks forward to his midfield partner Mark-Antony Kaye. As he plays his pass, Kaye receives pressure from Wayne Rooney and Júnior Moreno. Acosta’s press prevents a pass back to Atuesta and Rooney wins the ball. Unfortunately for DC, the final ball was not effective and the chance was wasted.
DC dispossessed LAFC eight times during the match and turned over the ball seven times. Most of these dispossessions (11) happened in the first half. As the game progressed, LA learned to cope with DC’s press much more effectively by breaking lines and finding space beyond the press. The next section of this tactical analysis will address this.
LAFC’s buildup play
Despite DC United’s high press, LAFC managed to create chances by breaking their opposition’s lines. DC’s high press usually forces teams to play backwards, resulting in a long ball up the field. LAFC took advantage of the press, finding opportunities to occupy space created between the lines.
Of LAFC’s 449 passes, 303 of them were forward. Of those forward passes, 93 were received in the final third and 167 were received in the middle third. The DC presses opened up pockets of space behind the pressing line for LAFC to receive passes.
The following sequence shows LAFC playing very direct. Atuesta finds the ball at his feet deep into his own half. With DC now defending high up the field, there is no opportunity to build up from the back. His direct pass to Vela is ushered on to Diomande who finds himself 1v1 with the goalkeeper.
LAFC were also able to beat the DC press with their passing quality. The following images showcase LAFC’s ability to take advantage of DC’s press to create a goalscoring opportunity. Diego Rossi dribbles the ball into the middle of the field as Kaye makes a forward run.
Canouse and Jara press Rossi, hoping to force a turnover. The press opens up space behind the defenders and Rossi has the quality to split the defenders and find Kaye’s run. After receiving the ball Kaye looks to split the defenders and finds the run of Diomande.
LAFC’s buildup play allowed them to beat the DC United press and penetrate the lines and create goal scoring opportunities. Three of LAFC’s goals came from direct forward passes to Vela and Rossi in wide areas.
LAFC’s high press
As well as beating the DC press by breaking the lines, LAFC nullified DC’s attack with a high press of their own. During the match, DC United were dispossessed 19 times and turned over the ball nine.
Some of LAFC’s best chances came from dispossessing DC with a high press. As Canouse received the ball in the 22nd minute, Blessing closes him down. Canouse turns out of the press but looses the ball to Kaye. Kaye plays the ball back to Blessing who starts the counter high up the field.
The fourth goal was a direct result of LAFC pressing DC. The three LAFC attackers forced Júnior Moreno backwards. Vela wins the ball off Moreno and the Blessing passes the ball into Christian Ramirez. Ramirez plays the ball into Rossi who scores.
DC United had started out the season strong up until this match, but LAFC were too much to handle. Bob Bradley’s side played with an attacking dynamism that even DC’s impenetrable defence couldn’t stop.
DC United will still be favourites as they host Montreal Impact in the week. But without a suspended Wayne Rooney the team will be looking towards Acosta and Arriola for attacking inspiration. LAFC are home to league fledgelings FC Cincinnati who have impressed in their first few games.