It was almost all chalk in Round 1 of the MLS Playoffs. The only road team to deliver a win was LA Galaxy against Minnesota (although it took a massive comeback by Philadelphia Union to advance).
The marque match of the semifinal round is without a doubt another El Trafico, as LAFC host Zlatan and co. How big is the match? In a good sign as to the state of MLS, even the bad tickets are fetching top dollar.
Here are the odds and some quick thoughts on each match. Look for our predictions post by Wednesday.
MLS Conference Semifinal Odds
|NYCFC -107||Draw +265||Toronto +265|
|Seattle Sounders -139||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +360|
|Atlanta United -152||Draw +310||Philadelphia Union +350|
|LAFC -250||Draw +410||LA Galaxy +550|
Odds & Ends
- LAFC are (rightfully) the biggest favorite of the week, priced at -250 to Galaxy’s +550. However, 1) for whatever reason, Galaxy are in LAFC’s head, 2) Galaxy looked pretty good against Minnesota!, 3) and they won without Zlatan doing well, who 4) always brings his A-game against LAFC. It only seems right that LAFC prevails here, but it won’t surprise anyone if Galaxy win.
- ATLUTD are only -152 at home against Philly. While that may seem low, they didn’t look great against New England. Only when the Pogba and Villalba subs were made did Atlanta “look like Atlanta.” However, Philadelphia was lit up at home by RBNY, so 🤷♀️. Having said all of that, while Atlanta doesn’t feel like a lock, they keep winning big games at home. And -152 a good price.
- Speaking of good prices, Seattle -139 at home?! Maybe we’re not giving RSL enough credit, but Seattle is a legit Cup contender. Don’t see them losing at home.
- Interestingly, that NYCFC vs Toronto price is very favorable to the Canadians. NYCFC started as even-money and just moved to slight favorites as we were writing this up. While LAFC vs Galaxy is the most intriguing match, this is probably the best of the bunch.
Who: Philadelphia Union vs LAFC
When: Saturday, September 14th @ 06:30 pm ET
Line: Philadelphia Union +160 | Draw +300 | LAFC+132
The Union will have a chance to host LA for the first time ever, after losing 4-1 in southern California in June of 2018, and a win would be huge — Philly are hanging on by a thread in the race for first in the Eastern Conference, trailing NYCFC by three points. First-place gets you a crucial bye in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Union vs LAFC match preview
Against a full-strength LAFC, a Philly win isn’t the most likely outcome. But recent LAFC results give the Union a certain amount of hope. Here are a couple of storylines in the lead-up:
1- This is a very nice opportunity for Philly to go against an elite opponent, and test whether they can win a one-off home game against a very good team. The 3-1 win over Atlanta in their last game before the international break was a positive sign. A draw or loss to LA wouldn’t write the Union off, but a harsh loss would tamper some excitement heading into the playoffs.
The concern with Jim Curtain’s team is a lack of game-breaking talent, specifically attackers. Ilsinho is the league’s most impactful super-sub (possibly of all time), but he isn’t as effective as a starter, and the Union don’t have elite attackers in their XI. It’s hard to compete for trophies in MLS without a reasonable counter to players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.
Philly need Kacper Przybylko to prove he can put the ball in the net at a consistent rate, which he’s shown in the past few weeks — he’s scored four goals in the last five games, scoring 13 on the year and going 90 every game since an April 27 draw in Vancouver. When the Union play Brendan Aaronson, Marco Fabian, and Jamiro Monteiro in midfield (MLSsoccer.com projects them all to start), they lack scorers beyond Przybylko.
2- As ever, the big tactical question in a game involving the Union is whether Curtain plays a diamond formation. Bob Bradley won’t shift from a 4-3-3, but he could adjust his team’s tactical approach to match numbers in the midfield. If Vela plays (and he hasn’t since being removed from the last El Trafico with a minor muscle injury, though he has been removed from the injury report), the Union could attempt to condense his space centrally with the diamond.
One of the more impressive elements of Philly’s rise this season has been their tactical flexibility. Curtain’s Coach of the Year case (which is very real, against Bradley’s and Matias Almeyda’s) is based partly on that flexibility. Playing a diamond against such a dominant and talented team like LA could be a risk. Whatever Curtain puts out, it will be a calculated decision, and Bradley will likely have some counter.
Haris Medunjanin’s mobility will be tested against the fast, ball-moving LA midfield. Medunjanin has been great this season, and his ability to hit exquisite balls out of the back has been huge for Philly, but he isn’t amazing as a ground-covering defensive midfielder. If Latif Blessing and Eduard Atuesta can find a way to isolate him, they could put Philly’s defense on its heels and set Vela up to devour the damage.
3- Rumors this week have had LA as being in contention to sign Mario Mandzukic, the 33-year-old Croatian forward who is out of favor at Juventus. That would certainly be a coup. Mandzukic, as an aerial power and an effective defender from the front, would fit as the head of an LA front three. His arrival would indicate that Rossi is likely to be sold in the summer, to create a front three of Brian Rodriguez, Mandzukic, and Vela. Philly can be glad they’re not going against that on Saturday.
By this point, it’s hard to argue that LAFC isn’t the greatest team MLS has ever seen.
They’ve won 19 of their 28 games, lead the league by 12 points, and are basically unbeatable at home (unless you’re Minnesota, apparently). They are on pace to squash the single-season points record set last year by the New York Red Bulls. They’re already tied for second most goals in a season, and have only given up 30, the best defensive record in the league.
With surefire MVP Carlos Vela and an astounding team of best XI players and award winners (Walker Zimmerman is the probable DOTY and Bob Bradley is the probable COTY), I’d take LA in a matchup against any MLS team in history.
But imagine this hypothetical: LAFC does not win MLS Cup in November. Say they make the final but get blitzed by Atlanta United, or perhaps fall prior to the final in a wild El Trafico against their kryptonite, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy. Such a flop would change their legacy, right?
Supporters’ Shield vs MLS Cup
This gets back to an enduring philosophical MLS dilemma: Is it better to win the Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup?
The Shield is for the best regular season team, and the Cup for the winner of the playoffs. While the Shield may indicate the superior team over the entirety of the season, the Cup is the true champion. Players and fans want the Cup more than anything else. The MLS Cup champion defines the season, honoring the team that was able to get it done when it mattered.
You could argue that the Shield is better to win, because it means you’ve played well for a long stretch. But at the very least, perception rests on playoff performance — as is to be expected in American sports, the postseason is the true barometer, no matter the randomness and variability.
So there is certainly an argument that an MLS Cup is necessary for LAFC to say they are the “greatest MLS team ever,” even if they may very well be favored in a matchup against any other historical lineup. Two years ago, Toronto FC won every title they possibly could, and then lost the Concacaf Champions League final on a coin flip the following year. They are the team to beat for LAFC.
2019 LAFC = 2007 New England Patriots
The obvious comparison for the Black and Gold, if they were to finish without a Cup, is the 2007 New England Patriots. The Pats went 16-0 in the regular season and then lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Those Patriots were dominant, with a record-setting Tom Brady and Randy Moss. They might well be the best NFL team of all time regardless of the loss to the Giants.
For LAFC, their legacy will come down to their performance in the playoffs — more specifically, the nature of any potential loss. An early flame out, similar to last season’s, would disqualify them. Something more understandable, or subject to variability, would simply relegate them to a status as the team that couldn’t get it done when it mattered, even if they maintain the greatest title in the aggregate.
By the eye test, they are simply outstanding, and come close to making this whole discussion moot. Vela is the best the league has ever seen. The defense is mistake-free and rarely comes up short in emergency defending situations. The midfield is far and away the best in the league, with two legitimate best XI contenders. You could go on and on, and we have. LAFC deserve the plaudits.
When the dust has settled, we’ll probably be thinking of this team as the best in league history. They almost certainly won’t suffer some major playoff upset. Without a ring, they will add only a caveat — albeit a pretty noticeable one — to their legacy.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic trashes MLS and proclaims himself the greatest, most of the league can only look at him and shrug. He destroys most teams, and he is the LA Galaxy’s entire system. His accomplishments outside of MLS dwarf pretty much everyone else’s.
Only one player in MLS can reasonably look up at Zlatan and claim to be the superior player right now: LAFC’s Carlos Vela, the best player in the league and probably the greatest MLS has ever seen.
Vela heads an LAFC team running away with the league right now, on pace to finish with easily the best regular season in league history. He’s scored 27 goals and 15 assists through 26 games, an insane tally. To put his total in perspective, Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015 season was previously considered the gold standard of all-around MLS attacking seasons, and he only managed 22g and 16a in 400 more minutes.
Zlatan, who has nowhere near the assists that Vela has, is behind the Mexican in goals, though he still has 22 this season. Vela has more positive influence in general, creating chances by cutting inside on his left foot and aiding more in general possession and defense than Zlatan does. The Galaxy hit tons of low-percentage crosses in the direction of their superstar, inhibiting their attack. Galaxy players sometimes play tentatively in fear of upsetting the volatile Zlatan, who has a habit of ripping into his teammates. Ibra plays no defense. Vela only props up his team, and has no such defensive issues.
While the gap between Vela and Zlatan is widening, it is clear that the two are comfortably ahead of the rest of the league, with all due respect to Josef Martinez. No one can match the gravity that the two provide on the field, and their quality on the ball is unmatched. They both would be stars in pretty much any league in the world.
LA Galaxy – LAFC rivalry heightens Vela-Zlatan tensions
The Vela-Zlatan reign over the league is fascinating in itself, but the matchup of the two in El Trafico enhances it all. LA-LAFC is by far the league’s best rivalry. It is the playoff matchup everyone wants. Every game between them feels like a championship. Zlatan owns LAFC, given his incredible record of goals in those rivalry game. The fact that LAFC have never beaten the Galaxy, despite always being the better team, drives some of the intensity. Zlatan’s epic dominance adds more layers.
Enjoy any chance you get to see those teams play, because it’s going to be hard to recreate this rivalry. They won’t play again in this regular season, but we can hope and pray for a playoff match-up, and by all indications we should be seeing another Vela vs. Zlatan round next season.
MLS’s version of Messi vs Ronaldo
These El Trafico games are MLS’s version of the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo match-ups that used to happen in La Liga. It’s the two clear best players starring for two bitter rivals, playing highly competitive and intense games. Vela is Messi, the Latin American maestro who has a magic left foot and scores heaps of goals despite playing as a creative right winger. Zlatan is Ronaldo, the physically-imposing striker with deceptively soft feet and an incredible ability to score in any situation.
The left-footed maestros remain a good couple of miles ahead of the goal-happy strikers, but the distance between the strikers and the third-best overall player (in MLS, in Zlatan’s case, and in the world, for Ronaldo) is a wide, wide distance. These comparisons are easy to make: Ronaldo and Zlatan are arrogant and polarizing, attempting to look down on a smaller-stature, yet superior, star. Messi and Vela are more introverted and do considerably less chest-thumping than their larger-than-life counterparts.
The comparisons are perfect. Battles between great players, and a chance to see them on the same field, can be rare. We will hopefully get to enjoy more Vela-Zlatan battles, just as we saw the two greatest soccer players of all time go at it for years.
An MLS best XI at this point in the season
Finally, if Ibra and Vela are the clear top two in the league right now, it’s worth noting who the best of the rest are too. Here’s the best XI in the MLS to date. Expect a full post with detailed explanation on the best XI once the season ends.
Who: LAFC vs LA Galaxy
When: Sunday, August 25th @ 10:30pm ET
Line: LAFC -200 | Draw +360 | LA Galaxy +450
The fifth edition of El Trafico, MLS’s most exciting rivalry, is on Sunday. The LA Galaxy are undefeated against their cross-town rival, winning twice and drawing twice, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring six goals and in the process staking an ownership claim on LAFC.
The best part of these two teams playing against each other is the battle of the two best players in the league: Carlos Vela, who is the best this league has ever seen, and Ibrahimovic. Zlatan has consistently won the battles but lost the war — LAFC is and has been a significantly better team than the Galaxy, yet the Black and Gold can’t beat them.
LAFC vs LA Galaxy Tactical Preview
Let’s take a look at some tactical elements as LAFC look to assert their dominance and the Galaxy look to continue their reign over the rivalry:
— Last time they played, the Galaxy found success by focusing their entire attention on winning the midfield battle and shutting Vela out of the game. Guillermo Barros Schelotto wanted to limit the midfield threesome of Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta, swarming them and tilting to the right to cut off service to Vela.
It was less a tactical masterclass and more a testament to the defensive endurance of the Galaxy’s midfield. They bent but they did not break, and they frustrated Vela to the extent that is possible — the Mexican still managed two goals.
At the time, LAG’s ability to minimize Vela’s involvement and win the midfield battle was the story of the game. Their approach always felt unsustainable, though, and there is a perfectly good chance that LAFC throw GBS’s strategies out the window and exact fierce revenge. LAFC have a lot more talent and an actual system. The Galaxy have Zlatan, and a deeply flawed system built around him. Ibra has been good enough on his own beat LAFC in the past.
— If the Galaxy succeed in making things difficult for Vela, Diego Rossi will have to step up more than he did in this year’s first edition of the rivalry. Rossi couldn’t carry the load despite LAG devoting a comical amount of attention to Vela. LAFC need more from their Uruguayan star.
I could see Bob Bradley giving Latif Blessing a freer role to infiltrate the space the Galaxy’s pressing midfield leaves open. Atuesta and, especially, Kaye struggled at times in the first meeting. Blessing excels as a versatile ball-winning pseudo No. 10 — the perfect ambiguous role for him — and it would be fascinating to see how he performs when given a heavier attacking role.
A free Blessing could force Zlatan to stop loafing and play some defense. It seems unlikely that Ibra will relent to running around with Blessing, so LAFC could create some good chances if Blessing becomes an attacking difference-maker.
— LAFC have to find a way to not let Zlatan score a bunch of goals. I don’t know what Bradley can really do, though, because Zlatan gets up for these games. When Ibra is really trying, he is unplayable, and he will be trying.
Perhaps Walker Zimmerman will track Zlatan specifically and try to take him out of his rhythm, or force him to drop deeper.
— One enduring concern for the Galaxy is the defensive personnel, specifically Jorgen Skljevik at fullback. Vela and Rossi can both tear Skljevik to shreds. The Galaxy have stabilized the backline for the most part, but they still give up goals. Last week against the Sounders, LAG would have had a 2-1 win against Seattle had Skljevik and goalkeeper David Bingham not screwed up mightily and conceded a disastrous own goal.
LAFC should be able to take advantage. They haven’t been able to before.
Who: LAFC vs NY Red Bulls
When: SUN AUG 11, 10:00 PM ET on FS1 · TSN 1/4 · FOX Sports GO
Line: LAFC -315 | Draw +440 | +700
Already the best team in MLS by a wide margin, the Los Angeles Football Club has just added highly rated 19-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Brian Hernandez from Penarol as a Young Designated Player.
Diego Rossi also came to LAFC from Penarol, signing with the new LA side in December of 2017. Hernandez starred for Uruguay at the recent U20 World Cup and has experience playing in both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
As L.A.’s Bob Bradley-led juggernaut welcomes the New York Red Bulls to the Banc of California Park for a Sunday night showdown, NYRB has some transfer news of its own. The Red Bulls have just put pen to paper on a loan deal for 22 year-old winger Josh Sims, who comes to New York from Southampton on a Young DP contract for the rest of 2019.
Sims has made 20 Premier League appearances for the Saints, earning important minutes at the end of last season as Southampton successfully fought to secure its Premier League status.
With visa issues still to be resolved neither newcomer will be available on Sunday, although there will be plenty of talent on hand, particularly in the black and gold of the home team.
LAFC vs New York Red Bulls Match Preview
At 9 wins, 0 losses, and 1 draw, Los Angeles has a near-perfect home mark. They are not too bad on the road either, where they are 7-3-3.
The Red Bulls, third now in a tightly packed Eastern Conference, cannot come close to LA’s numbers and are 3-4-3 away from Red Bull Arena. If Chris Armas’ men are to get a result out of their cross country jaunt they will need to take some steps toward re-establishing the defensive chemistry that led New York’s MLS originals to the league’s best defensive record in 2018.
Perhaps the closing of the MLS transfer window on midnight Wednesday, August 7 will do the Red Bulls some good in that respect, now that Aaron Long knows where he will be playing his soccer for the immediate future.
The 2018 MLS Defender of the Year was reportedly close to a move to the Premier League’s West Ham, with other clubs in other league’s also said to be bidding for him. Long is a professional and seems unlikely to go into a funk, but performance levels have been known to drop when players are denied a move.
Long, goalkeeper Luis Robles and all the Red Bulls will need a big performance against L.A. who leads the league with 61 goals, 14 goals better than Philadelphia, second in MLS with 46.
Of course, goalkeeper Tyler Miller, center backs Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura have led LAFC to the best defensive record in the league, with LA having surrendered just 23 goals.
Of late, however, that defensive shield has shown a crack or two, with LA conceding twice after having built a 3-0 lead versus Atlanta on July 26. LAFC managed to close out that win, badly needed after Zlatan Ibrahimovich had hung a hattrick on them the previous week in a 3-2 loss to the L.A. Galaxy.
LA got back on track with a 2-0 win Saturday at New England behind goals from Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing. Rossi is second on the team and fourth in the league with 13 goals, with likely MVP Carlos Vela setting the pace with his MLS leading 22 goals and 13 assists, level with NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez for the top spot on the helpers chart.
With a very impressive record of 16 wins, 3 losses, and four draws, LAFC has obviously been consistent all season. From a points dropped standpoint, LA’s worst stretch was when they drew consecutive matches, 1-1 at Seattle on April 28 and 0-0 at home to Chicago on May 4.
As for the Red Bulls, consistently inconsistent might be the best way to describe their 2019 season. Going back to a pair of wins, 4-0 over Real Salt Lake on June 1, and 2-0 versus Cinncinatti on May 25, the Red Bull have alternated wins with losses, with just a 3-3 draw with Atlanta on July 7 breaking the win, lose, win, lose pattern.
NYRB are heavy underdogs at +700. With a +7 goal differential compared to LAFC’s +38, and on the road, they should be. Oddsmakers have the most likely outcome a 3-0 LAFC win (+800), meaning this could be a long night for the Red Bulls.
LAFC lost again to the LA Galaxy in last week’s LA Derby. Afterwards, critics raged that LAFC wilt under the pressure of big games.
Perhaps it is a bit much to proclaim that this team — arguably the most dominant and talented MLS has ever seen — can’t get it done in one-off, all-important matches, but there is some history here.
LAFC have never beaten the Galaxy, their bitter rival. They lost at home in the playoffs last year to Real Salt Lake, a heavy underdog. Nine days before the latest loss to the Galaxy, they dropped a US Open Cup quarterfinal to the Portland Timbers.
Their struggles in these types of games has a bit of a Pep Guardiola Manchester City feel to it, the way that LAFC don’t quite choke, per se, but instead simply don’t win, failing to live up to their regular level.
It is a phenomenon that Bob Bradley and co. will deal with and hear about until they win a big game. This year’s playoffs, which will be the ultimate measuring stick for their legacy, should prove something of a testing ground. In MLS, you can’t truly be the league’s best team if you don’t win MLS Cup. Everyone understands it, as brutal as it can be for regular season winners who falter in one-off games.
As LAFC cruise to a resounding Supporters’ Shield win (the probability of which sits at 95 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight), they will continue to face questions about their ability to pick up the crucial wins that will be required of them.
LAFC vs Atlanta United Preview
This Friday’s blockbuster against Atlanta United won’t come close to the importance of an El Trafico game, or a tournament game. But it’s an opportunity to play against a marquee team on national television.
Atlanta have been mercurial and sometimes mediocre this season, but they are coming off a nice six-point week and have still managed to reach second in the Eastern Conference. Pity Martinez looked kinda good off the bench in their win against D.C. United on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at a couple of tactical notes ahead of one of the more interesting matches of the MLS season.
1 – It’s probably a bit premature to say that Pity Martinez has reached some meaningful new level. By this point, he’s not going to suddenly turn into the superstar we all thought he was. But if he starts improving and becomes playable again for coach Frank de Boer, Atlanta’s calculus changes this season.
De Boer’s played a 3-5-2 in each of the last two games, bringing Pity off the bench and playing Brandon Vazquez alongside Josef Martinez up top. It has not been a perfect solution, but Atlanta look better playing three-at-the-back, and Vazquez’s presence as a pure No. 9 adds a new wrinkle for teams defending Josef. With a hold-up striker diverting attention, space can theoretically open Atlanta’s star.
When Vazquez starts in that 3-5-2, though, there is no obvious place for Pity. Sticking him at the top of the midfield is untenable defensively with Darlington Nagbe already playing as a finesse box-to-box No. 8. It’s debatable whether Pity is best used as a second striker underneath Josef anyway, but it’s not like Pity has been good enough that de Boer should shape the formation to fit him.
A late goal and assist to slip past DCU will probably be enough to get Pity back in the lineup, most likely replacing Vazquez. Atlanta will have to have Pity be a difference-maker on the ball, and also manage to not make costly turnovers.
2 — This might be something of a redemption game for LAFC’s midfield, which did not perform to its usual high level in the loss to the Galaxy. They were outworked, a point Bob Bradley made after the game, and struggled to distribute the ball effectively.
It’s hard to see the Galaxy’s approach being repeatable for other clubs, though, especially without a player like Jonathan dos Santos in there. LAG had to work really hard to avoid losing the midfield battle, and there was nothing tactical they did (outside of maybe focusing more on Eduard Atuesta) that presents any sort of blueprint for other teams to use.
This game will come down to whether Atlanta bunkers or not — I’m betting they will, to an extent, but try to keep a ton of possession when they get the ball. LAFC are too good, particularly at home, to not drive opponents back and force them to play a deep defensive line. Pushing your defense forward with an aggressive possession shape against Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi is death.
De Boer might end up learning that lesson the hard way. If Atlanta get blitzed, a de Boer misstep may well be the cause.
Bob Bradley probably won’t make some fatal tactical mistake. He’s Bob Bradley. But LAFC can be beat (remember when they lost 1-0 at Colorado with an A- XI?), and Atlanta, as we all know, have a certain bit of game-breaking talent. We’ll see it play out Friday night.
Watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic go off for a hat trick Friday night as LA Galaxy and LAFC played a thrilling, physical, proper derby, we started thinking:
To figure this out, we’ll explore:
- How good is LAFC in MLS?
- How much talent does LAFC have on their roster?
- How does MLS compare to European leagues?
- How does LAFC statistically stack up against European clubs?
How good is this year’s LAFC?
LAFC is a legitimate MLS juggernaut. Even with Friday’s loss, their third of the season, LAFC are still 9 points clear of Galaxy in the Western conference. More impressively, they have an absurd +35 goal differential after 21 games.
For comparison’s sake, last year’s MLS Cup winner and juggernaut themselves, Atlanta United, finished the 34-game season +26.
The best goal differential in MLS history belongs to the 1998 LA Galaxy squad. Propelled by Cobi Jones leading the attack and Kevin Hartman between the sticks, that team finished +41 in a very different looking, quality-deprived league.
LAFC at +35 will likely blow the best goal differential record out of the water.
While goal differential is a much stronger indicator of a team’s quality than wins and losses, LAFC also have the single-season points record in their sights. That currently belongs to last year’s New York Red Bulls at 71. However, that team “only” was +29 for the season.
So it’s reasonable to say that after 21 games, LAFC are on track to record the greatest team season in MLS history.
How much talent is on LAFC’s roster?
LAFC have legitimate top-shelf talent…for MLS.
While Zlatan thinks (and for one night showed) otherwise, Carlos Vela has consistently been the best player in MLS all year. LAFC are dominant, but the real strength is their attack. Looking at WhoScored data, LAFC have four of the best 11 players (statistically) so far this season. All are midfielders / forwards:
How far ahead is Vela compared to the rest of the league?
For comparison’s sake, last year’s best player in MLS, Miguel Almiron, rated 7.7 on WhoScored. As we say, WhoScored isn’t the end all be all, but provides a solid measuring stick. Almiron was sold to Newcastle for $26M USD. Vela would never fetch the same price as Miggy (age being the biggest reason). However, Almiron stepped right in and was a top-half-of-the-roster contributor on a mid-table Premier League team. That would be a reasonable expectations for Vela (he’d even slot in well with a team like Wolverhampton).
After Vela, nobody on LAFC’s roster would likely earn starter minutes on any Prem squad other than recently promoted clubs or an off-team with a glaring positional hole. Domestic talent is there. Top European quality talent is sparse.
To further that point, LAFC’s total roster value is just over $43M. The below graphic is Transfermarkt’s top XI in the MLS in terms of value. These are the ballpark values clubs would expect to receive in transfer offers. It’s worth noting that Aaron Long is not among the four most valued defenders.
Anyway, market value has a startling direct correlation to team performance. Just look at Premier League team market values and where they finished in the table. Top 6 is almost in exact order of finish. Teams 7-10 are too, it’s just missing Wolves.
LAFC would have the 19th most expensive roster in the Premier League, and the lion’s share of that value is tied to one player.
MLS’ total league-wide market value is $652.53M USD. There are six teams in the Premier League alone with higher market values than the MLS as a league. MLS’ total value is comparable with Arsenal ($662M), who may not even crack the top 6 this year.
How does MLS compare to other leagues?
This is no besmirchment on MLS. It improves in quality every year. Other global domestic leagues have anywhere from a 40 to 100+ year head start on them.
We’re working on a larger post on this topic for early August. However, looking at Global Soccer Rankings on FiveThirtyEight and transfermarkt values, MLS would rank behind the following domestic leagues without question:
- English Premier League
- La Liga
- Serie A
- Ligue 1
- Primiera Liga
- Premier League (Russia)
- Süper Lig (Turkey)
- Liga MX
Other leagues like Super League (Switzerland) or Superliga (Argentina) have better top end teams and weaker bottom end clubs.
The point, LAFC is dominating a deep league… that lacks depth in the upper ranks.
So how would LAFC as a team do in Europe’s top leagues?
- LAFC has a Global Club Rank of 114.
- Their transfermarkt total would put them 19th out of 20 Premier League teams and somewhere among the bottom 3 for La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A.
- Their ClubElo rank then would approximate around 1575, which would be a top tier Championship level team.
So how would LAFC do in Europe?
- Premier League: They’d be a relegation candidate / would not qualify. They’d do well in the Championship.
- La Liga: Their roster value would put them in the relegation zone. However, their Global Soccer Ranking and ClubElo would have them as a top La Liga 2 squad.
- Bundesliga: Just copy+paste La Liga here. They likely wouldn’t qualify or would be a relegation candidate if they did. They’d be a top level Bundesliga 2 team.
- Serie A: Financially, Serie A is a bit stronger on the bottom end than the Bundesliga and La Liga. However, their Global Club Rankings and ClubElo indicate that LAFC would be right around the relegation zone.
- Ligue 1: I don’t really consider Ligue 1 in the same class as the other four leagues. It’s a big 4, not a big 5. To that point, LAFC would likely be a mid-table Ligue 1 squad. This is the first of the major European domestic leagues where they’d not only qualify, but hang.
After that, you could drop LAFC in the Netherlands or Portugal and while they wouldn’t compete for titles, they’d comfortably survive each year in the top half of the table.
So yes, LAFC is perhaps the greatest MLS squad of all time. But no, they wouldn’t compete with even the bottom teams of the top 4 European leagues just yet.
MLS is a good product that’s come a long ways. There’s still some distance from it’s top end and the rest of the world.
LA Galaxy vs LAFC wasted no time living up to the media fueled hype.
And he’s prone to do, Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped pour some of the gasoline.
This game had MLS’ biggest star shining in the brightest match of the season and took a new rivalry to true derby status.
Zlatan takes shot at Carlos Vela
Leading up to the game, LA Galaxy #9 Zlatan did his customary self-flagellating.
However, this time he did it at the expense of LAFC star and MLS presumptive MVP Carlos Vela.
In an ESPN FC interview, Zlatan claims he’s the best player in MLS (props to Zlatan for not adding the “the” in front of MLS as well). He also points out that, at 29, Vela is in his prime tearing up MLS–and not Europe.
“[Carlos Vela] is playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29 where was I?”— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 18, 2019
Ahead of El Tráfico, Zlatan says he’s the best player in MLS “by far” 👀 (via @ahoraonuncaespn) pic.twitter.com/nAqYrM47sB
Zlatan was with AC Milan for his age 29 season. He scored 14 goals in 29 domestic games that year. The final months of his year 29 was also with Milan and ended up being one of his better European seasons. He scored 28 goals in 32 domestic games and 5 goals in 8 other European matches.
Vela has 21 goals in 20 games for LAFC in MLS competition this year.
Vela responds by burying one from the spot
Vela must’ve heard Zlatan, because he wasted no time putting LAFC up in this derby.
After driving into the box and getting taken down by Galaxy keeper David Bingham, he cooly converted a penalty in the 4th minute, giving LAFC a 1-0 lead.
Zlatan immediately responds with a stunner and follows with a hat trick
Zlatan saw Vela score on a penalty and said, “hold my öl.”
In the 8th minute, Zlatan responds with a goal that only he is capable of scoring in MLS competition.
From there, Zlatan added to his tally, netting a header in the 56th.
He completed his hat trick with another blast in the 70th, giving Galaxy a 3-1 lead.
Vela scored one in the closing seconds of stoppage time. He appeared to be in an off-sides position, but the refs let it stand. Galaxy hung on for the 3-2 win. LAFC loses their 3rd game of the season. They looked out-classed by Galaxy. Zlatan looked like the real MVP.
MLS has a real derby
While nobody will confuse LAFC vs Galaxy with Manchester United vs Manchester City, Liverpool vs Everton, or Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid–make no mistake–this is a real derby.
It was physical. It was feisty. The crowd was loud. This game mattered.
Just like Atlanta United has provided a template for how soccer can work on a large scale in America, LAFC vs Galaxy shows just because you don’t have a 100 year history doesn’t mean you can’t have a derby with some good old fashion hatred.
With the MLS season just past its halfway point, now is as good a time as ever to do some awards. We’ll do the real awards and mix in plenty of other player and team prizes.
MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC
This one is as consensus a selection as you’re going to get. Carlos Vela has a ridiculous 19 goals and 12 assists in 19 games, on pace for the best season in MLS history. He is the best player on the best team. He does so much beyond scoring that he has left little debate as to who the best player in the league is.
Finalists: Maxi Moralez (NYCFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
Moralez has 6g, 11a as NYCFC’s fulcrum. The Light Blues have two losses all season and are tied for the Eastern Conference lead on points-per-game.
Zlatan is second in the league in goals and dictates everything that makes the Galaxy successful. He also dictates everything that holds them back — he does little defensive work and has an outwardly poor attitude.
Defender of the Year: Walker Zimmerman, LAFC
It’s hard not to give this award to Walker Zimmerman, who has clearly been the best defender in the league. His performance earned him a regular starting job in the USMNT’s Gold Cup backline.
Finalists: Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Larrys Mabiala (Portland)
Coach of the Year: Jim Curtain, Philadelphia
Philly has risen to first-place in the Eastern Conference with a defined style of play, emphasizing the strengths of its players and playing quality possession soccer. Jim Curtain’s trust of guys like Brenden Aaronson has spurred the Union’s surge.
Finalists: Bob Bradley (LAFC), Matias Almeyda (San Jose)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Ffrei, Seattle Sounders
I had a hard time coming up with a clear top contender for this one. Stefan Frei has continued to be solid in Seattle, so I’ll give it to him.
Finalists: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Newcomer of the Year: Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Alejandro Pozuelo has easily been TFC’s best player, with seven goals and eight assists so far in his debut season.
It would be a very good bet, though, that Portland forward Brian Fernandez will have this award on lock by the end of the year. The Timbers promise to win a good portion of their home game slate in the second half of the season, and Fernandez has been scoring at a goal-per-game pace.
Finalists: Fernandez, Kacper Przybylko (Philadelphia)
Most Improved Player: Latif Blessing, LAFC
Latif Blessing has been a Best XI-level performer in midfield for LA. He has gone from a super-utility player to one of the league’s best ball-moving and ground-covering midfielders in the league. Fellow LA midfielder Eduard Atuesta would’ve been a reasonable pick here as well.
Honorable mentions: Jackson Yueill (San Jose), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Atuesta, Lamine Sane (Orlando), Memo Rodriguez (Houston)
Best team: LAFC
Honorable mention: Philadelphia Union
Worst team: FC Cincinnati
Cincy have lost 13 of their 19 games and are the running favorite for the Wooden Spoon. They went to Minnesota and got annihilated 7-1 on June 29. As they continue to search for a coach, their roster is in a “tear it all down” stage.
Honorable mention: Columbus Crew
With Colorado and New England starting to figure themselves out, it’s been an especially bad year for Ohio teams.
Biggest surprise: The rise of the Union
Watching Philly transition from an interesting young team to a clear MLS elite has been a joy. They’ve done so through a well-crafted style of play, the growth of several players, and smart signings (Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylko, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos). We await the rise of Marco Fabian.
Honorable mentions: LAFC’s complete dominance, San Jose’s turnaround, Orlando’s new foundation
Biggest disappointment: Columbus’s plummet
The Crew started the season competently and then tumbled harshly to the surface, pushed off the ledge by a rash of injuries (Milton Valenzuela, Federico Higuain, Harrison Afful) and static coaching. As much as Caleb Porter wanted to run it all back, it just wouldn’t work. Big changes are on the horizon in Columbus.
Honorable mentions: Houston’s road stagnation, Toronto’s slow first half
Team that should improve: Portland Timbers
This is the easiest answer: Portland have a few games in hand on most Western Conference teams and will play the vast majority of their remaining matches at home. Sitting ninth in the west now, the Timbers should rise at least a few spots by the end of the year.
Honorable mentions: New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC
Team that might regress: Montreal Impact
Montreal are fourth in the east now, but feel the heat of NYCFC on their back. NYCFC have four games in hand and are just one point behind the Impact. The Red Bulls and possibly Toronto FC (with Omar Gonzalez and one or two TAM attackers arriving) could overtake the Impact as well and toss them out of the playoff race.
Eastern Conference leaders DC United host still winless (with 5 draws in 6 games!) but hungry NYCFC.
MLS Matchweek 8 Game Odds
|Friday, April 19|
|FC Cincinnati -115||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +280|
|Toronto FC -160||Draw +320||Minnesota +390|
|LA Galaxy -125||Draw +290||Houston Dynamo +310|
|Saturday, April 20|
|Chicago Fire -160||Draw +310||Colorado +420|
|Philadelphia Union -145||Draw +290||Montreal +380|
|Orlando City -175||Draw +340||Vancouver +430|
|Atlanta United -155||Draw +300||FC Dallas +400|
|New England Revolution +145||Draw +250||New York Red Bulls +175|
|Columbus Crew -170||Draw +320||Portland Timbers +430|
|San Jose +260||Draw +280||Sporting KC -105|
|Sunday, April 21|
|DC United -115||Draw +270||NYCFC+290|
|LAFC -140||Draw +310||Seattle +340|
Odds and Ends
- Yes, LAFC are the best team in MLS. However, some of LAFC’s placement as top team is because Seattle have two games-in-hand. Seattle at +340 this season against anyone is a bit long. Some value in Seattle at that price or the +310 draw.
- Speaking of draws, call it a hunch, or call it “they’ve literally drawn 5 of 6 matches to date,” but NYCFC at +270 for an even end results is a good price.
- New York Red Bulls traveling to New England are basically getting the exact same odds as Atlanta United did last week. ATL dominated. NYRB at +175 is tasty.
- And speaking of the Five Stripes, are they really back yet? If they’re win over New England wasn’t so much a sign of things to come as it was simply “New England sucks,” then Dallas at +400 or the draw at +300 are good prices.
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.
MLS Matchday 6 lines are out.
The marquee match-up is easily Eastern leaders DC United against Western leaders LAFC. That’s required viewing if you’re a MLS fan.
MLS Matchweek 6 Game Odds
All listed odds from April 03 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Friday, April 05|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +170||Draw +260||LA Galaxy+145|
|Saturday, April 06|
|NYCFC -140||Draw +310||Montreal Impact +340|
|Toronto FC -180||Draw +350||Chicago Fire +430|
|DC United +130||Draw +270||LAFC +190|
|New York Red Bulls -175||Draw +330||Minnesota United +450|
|Orlando City -130||Draw +300||Colorado Rapids +310|
|Philadelphia Union -110||Draw +260||FC Dallas +290|
|Columbus Crew -180||Draw +320||New England +480|
|San Jose +175||Draw +260||Portland Timbers +135|
|Seattle Sounders -230||Draw +360||Real Salt Lake +600|
|Sunday, April 07|
|FC Cincinnati +125||Draw +250||Sporting KC +210|
Odds and Ends
- So, yeah, we said it looks like oddsmakers have adjusted. Yet, the New York Red Bulls are heavy favorites against Minnesota United despite ‘Sota having a better goal differential (by 1, but still). How can this be? In part, the Red Bulls have been unlucky. Their xGF is less than their actual tally. Minnesota, on the other hand, have been lucky. Golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to regress to the mean and earn a W.
- Bottom-dwelling NYCFC, albeit at home, find themselves heavy favorites against mid-table Montreal. How can this be? Again, look at their goal differential. Both are -4 after four games. Montreal in particular is a sieve on defense, conceding 11 goals. This could be a high-scoring affair. Look at high tally goal props on this one.
- Looking for some value underdogs? Sporting KC at +210, a superior team to a still surprisingly solid FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas at +290 against Philadelphia Union are both worth a longer look.
- A value favorite is Orlando City at home. At only -130 against a middling Colorado team, those are some short odds for a clearly superior team.