After brushing aside all before them en route to recording the best regular season in MLS history in 2019, LAFC continue to find life much tougher going this time around.
For the fifth time in seven matches since the resumption of the regular season in August, LAFC went down to defeat on Friday night. And once again, it was the Seattle Sounders, the team that ended their hopes of lifting MLS Cup in last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, who inflicted the damage.
It was a game that LAFC will feel could have gone very differently. Both sides created openings in a high octane first period of the opening half on a rainy night in Seattle. But in five minutes around the half-hour mark, the game changed dramatically.
First Dejan Jakovic waved his elbow onto the ball to give Nico Lodeiro the chance to make it 1-0 from the spot. And before LAFC could regather themselves the referee was pointing for a penalty once more after Latif Blessing was adjudged to have fouled Yeimar Gomez Andrade. To LAFC coach Bob Bradley, it was the kind of decision that goes against a team struggling for wins.
“I’ve said a few times that now facing adversity and having a real way as a group to play through it, that’s, that’s the challenge for us,” he said in his post-match press conference. “When you go through a tough stretch it just seems like no matter what things go against you.
“Overall I thought the start to the game was fair enough. And two penalties. The first one we just don’t do well enough in terms of dealing with the ball as it comes in. On the second one, for me, it’s just not a penalty. Pablo’s [Sisniega] coming to take the ball. And so I don’t think that that’s one that you’ll see called on too often in big games.”
After so much success a year ago, LAFC are having to confront a very different reality right now and sit just one point above the playoff line in the Western Conference, having played a game more than those below them.
— LAFC (@LAFC) September 19, 2020
“I think it’s just a difficult time for us as a team, we’re not getting the result that we want,” said midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. “Not every game is bad performances but we’re getting penalized on some plays and we go behind and we have to fight back so we don’t do ourselves a lot of favors.”
LAFC have now conceded 27 goals in just 12 regular-season games in 2020, the joint-worst defensive record in the league. And Kaye admitted there is much to work on.
“We’re not as sharp as we need to be, there’s a lack of concentration in certain players, myself included,” he said. “I think I need to play better I have to raise my level, and hopefully that will help other guys in the games.”
Still, Friday’s defeat was not without encouragement. Bradley praised his players for responding to his challenge to push on at least make a fight of the game in the second half, something they did before Raul Ruidiaz sealed their fate eight minutes from the end.
Atuesta’s absence from the starting lineup since the resumption of the regular season has been particularly keenly felt and it will now be hoped that he can make his full return and mark a change in LAFC’s fortunes when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US’ TSN1/4 in Canada).