Newsletter: Soccer! Minnesota delivers the blueprint on how to beat LAFC

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Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, The Times’ soccer writer. We start again this week in MLS where LAFC, playing without league MVP candidate Carlos Vela, received an important wake-up call in a loss to Minnesota United while the Galaxy’s playoff hopes remained surprisingly rosy despite the fact Sunday’s loss in Seattle left them with just one win in their last seven games.First, LAFC. The league leaders thoroughly dominated the Loons on Sunday, possessing the ball for more than 68 of the 90 minutes, outshooting the visitors 24-5, outpassing them 807-243 and completing better than 87% of those passes to a 57.2% completion percentage for Minnesota United.Yet Minnesota United scored two goals on its first three shots to win, 2-0. It was LAFC’s first loss of the season at Banc of California Stadium, ending a 19-game unbeaten streak at home dating to last season. That was tied for the seventh-longest in MLS history. The loss was also LAFC’s first by multiple goals in 31 games. (Click here to see the highlights.)Those are all numbers that speak to LAFC’s dominance this season. But by committing to absorbing pressure, playing in a low block and keeping eight players behind the ball, Minnesota proved LAFC can be beaten – indeed, it drew the blueprint for how to make that happen – and that should concern LAFC given the new MLS playoff format.
In seasons past, the conference semifinals and finals were two-leg affairs decided by aggregate goals. The advantage under that format clearly belonged to the better team since their quality will more likely prevail over two matches.But this year the entire postseason tournament will consist of single-elimination games that will end in penalty kicks if the score is tied after extra time. That turns it into a crapshoot, one in which a 34-game season can be undone in one afternoon; suddenly it’s not about being better but it’s about being smarter, more disciplined or maybe even luckier. (Remember just three Supporters’ Shield winners have also won the MLS Cup in the last 16 seasons.)And that favors a team like Minnesota, which devised an excellent game plan and stuck to it, winning the game despite being outplayed by a wide margin.Think Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2016 women’s Olympic soccer tournament when it played a boring, defensive game to force the U.S. into penalty kicks, where Sweden prevailed.
That was a game that inspired U.S. keeper Hope Solo to say, “we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today, I strongly, firmly believe that.”LAFC coach Bob Bradley praised Minnesota’s game plan while his goalkeeper, Pablo Sisniega, said the team definitely needs to figure out a way to beat that strategy since it’s likely to become one LAFC will see again going forward.“It’s challenging when teams park the bus so much and they just have eight guys behind the ball sitting inside their box,” he said. “So we have to figure out ways to create opportunities when teams do that.”As for missing Vela, who is sidelined with a hamstring strained in last month’s draw with the Galaxy, LAFC has played eight games without its captain the last two seasons, going 4-3-1 in those matches. It is 31-10-13 with him.Bradley said there is no timetable for Vela’s return. But with a playoff berth already clinched and both the Western Conference title and Supporters’ Shield virtually assured, he added, “we’re not going to rush it.”When he does return Vela, who leads the lead with 27 goals, will resume his pursuit of Josef Martinez’s single-season record of 31 scores, set last year. He also has 15 assists, which is tied for second-best in MLS, and is aiming to become the first player in league history with 20 of each in a single season.And there’s one more record he is chasing alongside teammate Diego Rossi, who has 14 goals:Most goals by two teammates combined
2018 Atlanta United (43)Josef Martinez, 31Miguel Almiron, 122019 LAFC (41)Carlos Vela, 27Diego Rossi, 142012 San Jose Earthquakes (40)Chris Wondolowski, 27
Alan Gordon, 13A Galaxy not so far, far awayIn many ways, the Galaxy’s 4-3 loss in Seattle was a crushing defeat. Playing on turf before an away crowd of nearly 47,000, the Galaxy erased a two-goal deficit late in the second half, fell behind again, came back to tie the score on

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