LAFC manager Bob Bradley took on one of his biggest challenges this season. After playing a tough Portland Timbers team midweek, a clash with second-place LA Galaxy looming, he was tasked with travelling to the formidable Houston Dynamo who are unbeaten in 10 home games this season winning seven.

Through this tactical analysis, we will examine how despite playing only a few of their regular starters, LAFC applied their signature principles and made an unthinkable comeback.

Lineups

MLS 2019 Tactical Analysis: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Houston Dynamo vs. LAFC (Via: Wyscout)

LAFC were put together in their usual 4-3-3 shape the two midfielders Lee Nguyen and Mark-Anthony Kaye roles could be described as two attacking midfielders.

Giving the circumstances, LAFC made nine changes to their lineup from their midweek clash. Most notable absences were top to bottom, with MLS top scorer Carlos Vela being left out and his partner in crime Diego Rossi. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller made his first appearance since June 2nd.

A back four with very few minutes under their belt this season. Nine total appearances between the centre back partnership. This would be a particular weakness that the Dynamo would target through their tactics.

Houston Dynamo matched LAFC’s 4-3-3. Alberth Elis and Mauro Mantonas the club’s joint top scorers this season started in attack they’ve combined for 23 total goals this season.

Houston targets defence

Houston Dynamo and LAFC are two of the top three teams in big chances created. Through tactical analysis, you could see the home side would look to specifically target the inexperienced back four of LA. They particularly looked to start play down their left flank. Center back Mayor Figueroa progressed the ball to left-back Lundkvist 22 times in the first 45 minutes. Throughout the full 90, he created three big chances himself the most of any player on the field.

Once entering the middle third making quick combinations between the left-sided attacker and left-sided midfielder. Moving to the attacking third then would target passes in between the fullback and centre back then putting the ball across the box looking to create a goal-scoring opportunity. This approach to the match was very successful. The Dynamo created three big chances in the first half scoring one goal and could have scored more.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Houston left-winger makes run in between left-back and centre back, the ball is played into space.
MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Right-sided winger makes run in between LAFC fullback and centre back.

They would also create opportunities through more direct play. The before mentioned inexperienced centre back partnership of LAFC would be caught out on two long balls which would create two goal-scoring opportunities for Houston Dynamo.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
A long ball in between the two LAFC centre backs creates a goal-scoring opportunity.

LAFC’s success in the middle third

Western Conference leaders LAFC on the other hand despite their large number of changes and missing key personnel would not alter their imposing possession-based style.

A brave and telling choice by the manager. As most coaches would be likely trying to change shape and tactics to accommodate the lack of quality and key players.

Bradley’s men success came in the middle third and when they settled in possession. Creating vertical passing sequences through the gut of the Houston defensive shape. Midfielder Mark Anthony-Kaye attempted 45 passes in the first half the most of any midfielder.

Players looked for space between Houston’s middle and defensive lines. Wide players Josh Perez and Zelaya would come inside while the fullbacks occupied the wide areas. The visitors would create six shots from the top of Houstons box.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
LAFC passes inside the middle third in the first half. (Via StatsZone)

Houston were not able to close down the space quick enough in the middle third. Failure to do so would eventually lead to LAFC’s ruthless attack play to punish them. A passing sequence of five passes would lead to their first goal of the game as Lee Nguyen found space in between the middle and defensive lines and delivered a ball to striker Diomande who would convert the chance.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
LAFC buildup to their first goal. (Via StatsZone)

Pressing battles

Houston Dynamo would try to combat LA’s possession style by implementing a man-oriented press. By doing this they were hoping to create scenarios where they would cut off passing lanes and limit passing options into midfield. This specifically hurt LAFC’s buildup phases. Center back Jakovic was forced into six failed passes in his own half

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Houston man-oriented press attempting to disrupt LAFC’s buildup.

This would, however, create disorientation in the Dynamo’s defensive shape. Clever off-the-ball movements by the two attacking midfielders in LA’s setup would create significant space and open up passing solutions.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Lee Nguyen creates space through off the ball movement disrupting the man-oriented press.

Bob Bradley has been a strong believer in the idea of attacking the ball out of possession. Using specific triggers and aggressive counter-pressing to create turnovers. Even without his preferred players against a quality side away from home he still stuck by this philosophy despite how risky it could be.

At times LAFC were punished for this with players being caught out leaving significant space in behind.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Attacking midfielders caught high up the pitch pressing. Leads to Houston shot on goal.

But over time the players adapted and learned. LAFC started to create significant turnovers in Houston’s half. Outnumbering Houston players and quickly closing them down. Triggers such as when a player takes a bad touch and when the fullback receives the ball in the buildup.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Houston player takes a bad touch, LA players quickly close him down and create a turnover.

Bob Bradley takes over

With the game being tied at 1-1 despite Houston’s great opportunities to extend what was once their lead doom loomed over BBVA Stadium. 30 combined goals laid in wait on the bench and Bob Bradley would begin plugging in his pieces throughout the half into his tactics.

Bradley first introduced midfielder Latif Blessing. His quality passing, intelligent pressing, and engine were on full display. His introduction created more dynamic passing solutions in midfield to play through Houston’s first line of pressure. He completed 30 passes with 97% passing accuracy.

In terms of pressing, the dogs were let loose and the press intensified. One of the specific triggers on display this half was when one of Houston’s centre backs received the ball. Given their enormous influence on the first half, this was an astute tweak from LAFC’s manager. In the second half, Figueroa was limited to a 75% passing accuracy, failing eight of his passes.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
LAFC pressing high in Houston’s half.

This led to turnover after turnover. Mark-Anthony Kaye had the most ball recoveries in the game with 14. What is most interesting is the areas in which these recoveries are. You can see truly how effective LAFC’s pressing was this match.

MLS 2019: Houston Dynamo vs LAFC - tactical analysis tactics
Mark-Anthony Kaye recoveries vs. Houston Dynamo (Via StatsZone)

Conclusion

Despite the massive changes in the lineup that didn’t include multiple key players. Bob Bradly stood by his principles and tactics. As shown in this analysis these ideologies and tactics would be the recipe for their huge success in Houston.

On the other hand, Wilmer Cabrera came into the game with a great approach that they saw great success within the first half. Disrupting LA’s buildup and creating quality chances through targeting the weakness of their back four. However, failing to adapt and keep up in the second half seeing his team fall aside.

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