Is LAFC the Best Team in MLS?

Posted By Harrison Hamm on April 9, 2019

LAFC, at five wins and a draw in six games, sit atop the MLS standings. They picked apart D.C. United in a marquee weekend matchup, winning 4-0 and upping their goal differential to a monstrous +14. They’ve won their last two matches by a combined 9-0. Their attacking nuance and creativity sets them apart.

How LAFC is dominating

Carlos Vela is staking a very real campaign for being the best player in the league, leading MLS in both goals and assists. Diego Rossi is second in goals, and Latif Blessing is tied for second in assists. LA attacks with firepower and has found balance down the lineup, freeing the Vela-Rossi attacking combo to run into space and combine.

Blessing, though, has been a big difference-maker. Having started the season as an every-position utility player, Blessing is now a ball-moving number 8, rotating the ball everywhere and slithering into half-spaces. He has grown exponentially as a passer, and begun to realize how his dribbling abilities unlock passing opportunities.

Next to Mark-Anthony Kaye, Blessing patrols large swaths of the field and puts the ball in good areas with help from Eduard Atuesta, a calm, competent presence on the ball. If we learned anything from the We are LAFC documentary on ESPN+, it’s that Andre Horta won’t be much of a factor for this team in the future, but the emergence of Atuesta and Blessing have assuaged concerns over a missed opportunity with Horta.

Central midfield had often been LA’s weakest point in their expansion season, especially after a devastating Kaye injury in July. Opponents sliced through it, and the slow, over-aggressive center back tandem of Walker Zimmerman and, for the first half of the season, Laurent Ciman was not the right personnel to deal with it. With Blessing, Kaye and Atuesta, LAFC now have one of the best passing midfields in MLS.

The backline has solidified as well. Zimmerman is in the USMNT pool. Eddie Segura, LA’s biggest off-season get, has proven a valid starter. Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour are experienced MLS vets manning the flanks. Tyler Miller is growing into a top 10 goalkeeper in MLS. It’s a deep starting XI all the way through.

But the front three, with Vela, Rossi and either Christian Ramirez or Adama Diomande, shreds opponents. Vela darts inside from the right flank and fills space behind the center forward, cutting in on his magical left foot and probing outside the box. With Rossi seeing everything Vela sees, the attack hums at a pace too fast for MLS defenders.

Rossi is a clinical finisher who knows who to put himself in goal-scoring positions, only he does it off the wing — adding a runner, poacher and creator to an attack revolving around Vela and the striker. Diomande and Ramirez make the right runs and see chances as a result.

This all happens without sacrificing too many bodies going forward. Bob Bradley has the well-oiled machine he wants, and has found exactly the right role for his superstar in Vela. LA look like the league’s best team as others (like the Red Bulls and Atlanta) drop unexpectedly. They have the depth, system and top-tier talent to stick at the top of the Western Conference.

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