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Column: LAFC continues to roll, using a deceptively simple system

Los Angeles FC defender Tristan Blackmon, third from right, celebrates his goal with teammates durin
LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon, third from right, celebrates his goal with teammates during the second half against the Montreal Impact on Friday.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

This was more than a victory. This was a complete destruction.

This was the varsity bullying the JV. This was the hammer pounding the nail. This was Mike Tyson knocking out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds.

The final score was 4-2, but the game wasn’t nearly that close.

Fifty-five minutes into the match Friday night at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC had a four-goal advantage over the Montreal Impact.

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As an expansion team last season, LAFC played a highly entertaining style of soccer, which is a euphemistic way of saying they both scored and gave up plenty of goals. As a second-year franchise this season, LAFC is just good.

The team’s 34 points are the most in MLS. The surprise isn’t that LAFC leads the league in scoring with 36 goals. It’s that they have also allowed the fewest number of goals with 11.

An opposing coach has already said Bob Bradley’s team is to MLS what Manchester City is to the English Premier League. And LAFC (10-1-4) could soon be in contention for designation as the greatest team in the history of the quickly evolving league.

“We don’t have any trophies yet,” Bradley was quick to remind everyone.

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Standout teams of the past, most notably Toronto FC in 2017 and the Galaxy in 2011, were characterized by the multiple dominant players on their rosters. LAFC has some of those, too, as forward Carlos Vela leads the league in goals and assists. What differentiates this team from others, however, is the fluidity with which it plays.

LAFC makes everything they do it does look simple and that was the case again Friday night. Christian Ramirez blocked a clearance by Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush and the ball somehow ended up in the net. Vela doubled the lead on a breakaway. A series of quick passes resulted in a tap-in by Latif Blessing. Left back Tristan Blackmon nodded in a corner kick by Vela to increase the lead to 4-0.

“To do things easily and to do things simply is the hardest thing to do in soccer,” midfielder Eduard Atuesta said in Spanish.

Time was required for the players to learn Bradley’s system, which is emphasizes ball possession.

“Last year, there was a lot of information to take in,” midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said.

This is especially true for Atuesta and Kaye, center midfielders who link LAFC’s back and forward lines.

A former captain of Colombia’s under-20 national team, Atuesta was new to MLS last season. Kaye was a former left winger who was played for a minor league team in Louisville in 2016 and 2017.

LAFC might be known for how they control the ball, but the players said equally important is what they do when they opposition has it.

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“Recover the ball as quickly as possible,” Atuesta said.

Atuesta explained, “It’s fundamental to what we do. The quicker we recover the ball, the closer we are to scoring. It’s a principle and many people say it to where it’s a cliché, but it’s true. If you recover the ball quickly, you have more opportunities to score. I think that’s one of the things we’ve done really well this season, which is why our forwards have scored as much as they have.”

Ramirez’s goal in the seventh minute was an example of that.

So was Blessing’s in the 31st. The play started when Blackmon, the left back, intercepted a pass in the Impact’s half of the field. Blackmon moved the ball to Vela, who played a ball to Diego Rossi on the left side of the penalty box. Rossi slanted a pass across the goalmouth, creating an easy goal for Blessing.

Part of the defensive improvement can be attributed to LAFC having two stay-at-home midfielders in Atuesta and Kaye.

But the team is also moving forward and back together more cohesively. Players have become more adept at knowing when and how to move based on where opponents have the ball. When an opposing player has the ball, it’s not uncommon for LAFC to have three or four players around him immediately.

They already knew how to attack with numbers. They now know to defend with numbers.

“You need everyone to be on the same page,” Kaye said. “It’s like if one person is out of sync, it requires someone else to do more work.”

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Kaye said what inspired the improvement was the team’s 3-2 loss to underdog Real Salt Lake in the first round of the playoffs last season. Attacking teams are often given a pass when they lose by their fans, who applaud their adventurous spirit and lament their bad luck. LAFC didn’t settle for that.

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“We’re too good to get unlucky,” Kaye said. “We work too hard every day to leave the outcome of the game to luck. The best teams in world are ones that even when the other team gets lucky, they still take care of business.”

LAFC has managed to do that this season.

However, Kaye said, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you do in the first 10 games or 20 games. It’s what happens at the end of the season. We’re not there yet.”

Half a season and the postseason remain to be played. A place in league history awaits.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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