Preview: LAFC (n)
When? Friday July 31, 4.30 p.m. PT, 7.30 p.m. ET and 12:30 a.m. (1/8) GMT.
Where? ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, FL.
How can I catch the action? FS1 & TUDN, Fox Desportes, UniMas, Fox Sports App for residents of the United States. TVA Sports 2, TVA Sports App, TSN and the TSN app for Canadian residents. Free Sports (Freeview channel 64, and on the app) for us U.K. folk. The game is also available via radio locally on 96.9 The game and 810AM ACCION (ESP).
LAFC booked their passage to the quarter-finals following a comprehensive victory over defending MLS Cup Champions, the Seattle Sounders. Bob Bradley's team may have had some help from a beleaguered Sounders defence, but they were nonetheless impressive in this game. As they have been through the tournament so far, even though they are sans Carlos Vela. LAFC have scored 15 goals in the tournament so far, and have further underlined their status as favourites for MLS Is Back. New York Red Bulls legend Bradley Wright Phillips has hit the ground running in Orlando, with 3 goals on the tournament so far. Make no mistake, this will be Orlando City's toughest test so far. We will need to be on-point defensively. LAFC's high tempo interplay is very difficult to defend against. It can lead to them turning the ball over, but this doesn't happen all that often.
All that being said, this team are not invulnerable. They have been breached 8 times, and have yet to keep a clean sheet in this tournament. There are weaknesses there, weaknesses that we can exploit. Particularly if we can get the press right (which we have been doing), Orlando could have some joy there. Aside from that, LAFC's stats don't make for pleasant reading from an Orlando City point of view. This is a very, very good team. Their style of play is both potent and aesthetically pleasing. This is a game, where Orlando City will have to be at their absolute best to have any hope of getting through the tie.
The midfield could well be the area where this game is won and lost. The Lions have a settled midfield formation and line-up with Urso/Mendez, Rosell and Pereyra all forming positive paetnerships. LAFC's likely midfield 3 of Atuesta, Kaye and Blessing is packed full of quality. They play a short passing style (see figure 1). In the game against the Sounders, Seattle intercepted the ball 18 times. Whilst LAFC were disposessed 25 times (figure 1). The impressive recovery record of Orlando's midfield backs up my hypothesis that Orlando could have some joy winning the ball back in the middle of the park, as Portland did against LAFC (see figure 2). They do create a lot of chances, and take a lot of shots. When they are at their brilliant best, they are capable of giving any team in this league a hiding.
Figure 1 LAFC play in a very direct manner, playing lots of short passes at pace. As such they are guilty of turning the ball over in the middle. Seattle Sounders (orange) still had 18 interceptions, despite losing the game 1-4. This suggests that Bradley's LAFC do turn the ball over.
Figure 2 In their game against Portland Timbers, LAFC (orange) did turn the ball over in their own half on a number of occasions. With Orlando's use of the high press, this could be advantageous for the Lions. Possibly.
Both teams have injury concerns heading into this game. Oscar Pareja is still sweating on the fitness of Junior Urso, and will definitely be without the polarising Dom Dwyer. Dwyer has left the bubble and has undergone an MRI scan on his left knee. LAFC are definitely without Adama Diomande (right foot) and potentially Andy Najar (abductor strain). Adrien Perez was fit enough to take his place on the bench in the game against Seattle, as was Danilo Silva following their respective injuries.
Possible starting XI for LAFC
LAFC have had a settled formation throughout the tournament, using their preferred 4-3-3 in every game so far. LAFC have an abundance of quality and pace in forward areas. I think they'll play the same team that swept Seattle aside. That being said, Bradley could be tempted to rest one or two, given that they have a much shorter turnaround time than Orlando.
The former Red Bull has rediscovered some of his best form in this tournament so far. He has scored 3 goals so far, including a rip-roaring drive against the Portland Timbers. He looks to be enjoying his football again, following on from an injury hit conclusion to his career in New Jersey. He's a very direct player and a superb finisher. We've been burnt by him before, so Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos will have to be on their metal to keep the mercurial striker out of this game.
Both teams come into this game in excellent form. Bradley's team are 2-2-0, whilst the Lions are 3-1-0. Both are, obviously, undefeated. LAFC are the clear favourites, though City more than gave their own in the last meeting between the sides. The teams played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Exploria Stadium in September 2019. Prior to that Orlando lost the only other meeting between the teams. A 4-1 reversal at Banc of California stadium in the 2018 season marked the first clash between the teams.