LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — With MLS returning next Wednesday, July 8, the prognostication over who will come out victorious in the league’s MLS is Back tournament has begun. LAFC is the odds on favorite to win the tournament, which is no surprise considering the success Bob Bradley’s club enjoyed last year.
LAFC set the all-time MLS points record in 2019 en route to clinching the Supporter’s Shield and making a run to the conference finals. Add to that success the return of the club’s top players and additions to its depth and it’s easy to see why the club would be considered the favorites to win. But, there is one key point to consider with the team.
“LAFC just because of how historically great they were last year, but that even depends on if Carlos Vela is going to play. His wife is pregnant so if he chooses, he could be excused from this without any repercussions,” said MLSSoccer.com writer Tom Bogert. “There has been no official word on if he’ll play or not. With or without him, LAFC are going to be one of the favorites.”
While the club awaits a decision from Vela on whether he will participate in Orlando, the depth that they have built, particularly in the attack surrounding Vela, should give fans comfort that they’ll be more than capable of making a deep run in the tournament. Fellow winger Diego Rossi showed last season he’s a constant threat, posting 16 goals and seven assists in 33 starts in 2019. And, while fellow Uruguayan Brian Rodriguez didn’t make a massive impact in his time with the club last season, the 20-year-old would be in his more natural position if Vela doesn’t play.
“Their three best players are all wingers, so if all three are on the field, one is playing out of position. So, if Vela is gone, that’s easy the other two are playing their natural spot on either side of a natural center forward. When they played with a natural center forward, that’s when they were at their best,” said Bogert. “The silver lining would be now you let Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi play on their natural spots on the wings which will hopefully unlock Rodriguez a little better. And, they’ll have a natural center forward like Adama Diomande who is a good goal scorer on his own so goals won’t be a problem for them even if Vela doesn’t play.”
Either way, the attack should be just fine. Bob Bradley’s squad totaled 85 goals in 34 matches last season, putting them just behind the 1998 L.A. Galaxy on a goals per game average basis for most goals in a season all-time. And, the depth isn’t just on the attacking side of things, general manager John Thorrington and assistant general manager Will Kuntz have put together a strong backbone for the team including some young starts who shined in the U-20 World Cup.
“They have two center midfielders in Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes that were stars not just playing in the U-20 World Cup. They’re their third or fourth center mids,” said Bogert.
That depth is likely to be key in a situation like this tournament simply because the players haven’t been training for that long following a three-plus month layoff. Fitness and the Orlando heat and humidity, will be factors. For LAFC, they are well positioned to thrive.
“They are going to be able to interchange really well and as you said, the teams that should be excelling in this tournament are the ones that are deeper and the ones that have no issue relying on the next seven or eight guys outside of their first 11,” said Bogert.
Group F play begins for LAFC against the Houston Dynamo on Monday, July 13 at 5 pm PST.