Sunday afternoon the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) will start their 2019 MLS season. LAFC will no longer be the darlings of the MLS. They will no longer be the expansion team with the shiny new building. No now LAFC is just another team looking for trophies.
After setting a league record for an expansion team with 57 points, LAFC wants more this year. As successful as last season was, it ended bitterly for LAFC as they lost their only playoff game to Real Salt Lake at home.
The game followed an unsettling pattern for the team where they could score but struggled to hold leads especially late in games. If the team wants to start collecting trophies this year it will need their defense to come through.
With 68 goals in their first season LAFC was second to Atlanta United (70) in the league. It is unlikely that the team will struggle on offense as they return a majority of the scoring prowess from last year.
The engine of the offense was definitely their captain Carlos Vela. He led the team in goals scored with 14 in league play. That doesn’t mean they don’t have other weapons, forwards Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande also scored double digit goals last year.
In the last month the team has brought in Rodolfo “Fito” Zelaya to give the team depth. The team will also have Mark Anthony-Kaye who they lost to a leg fracture in the middle of last season to add to the midfield.
The backline is probably the most obvious spot for improvement this year. While the team was fourth in goal differential at a +16, among the top 10 teams in the MLS standings LAFC gave up the most goals with 52. If the team wants to contend for trophies this year that trend has to be reversed.
One of their most important moves this season was the re-signing of center back Walker Zimmerman. The 25-year-old Zimmerman took over as leader of the defensive unit after the sudden departure of captain Laurent Ciman last season. This season he must lead a unit that too frequently gave up late goals.
The team added to it’s defensive depth by bringing in defenders Eddie Segura and Mohamed El Monir. Coach Bob Bradley is going to need the defense to gel quickly as the team plays four teams in March that were top ten in the MLS standings last year.
There is only one name when it comes to goalkeeping duties: Tyler Miller
Miller played 33 of the team’s 34 MLS games and was in goal for all four of their games in the U.S. Open Cup tournament. With 10 league shutouts Miller’s consistency was the anchor of the team.
Miller was key to many games especially when his defense faltered. He should expect a similar workload this year, but an improved defense will be needed to prevent burning out Miller.