One side, LAFC, has had success in doing so. Bob Bradley’s side is currently sitting at the top of MLS with 27 points and a plus-21 goal difference.
The other, FC Dallas, has struggled in its recent matches. After a strong start, Dallas has just one point in three matches, while attempting to play a new style under coach Luchi Gonzalez, 10 points behind LAFC in the Western Conference.
Recently, Columbus coach Caleb Porter continued the praise for LAFC, calling them the ‘Man City of MLS’. While Gonzalez does not agree with that fully, he does see some similarities with English champions and with his own ideas.
“In terms of football, yeah,” Gonzalez said. “LAFC is playing possession-based soccer with some really special individuals that when they get into their small group combinations, can be very dangerous and they transition and press right away. It’s a football model that I can relate with and it’s a great opportunity to play against it and have our way and our tactic to be solid defensively and be difficult to break down and have ball recovery and transition whether on the counter or to possess it as well and be patient and get on the ball.
The ball is important, the ball is everything. I know LAFC is working in that way and so we want to value the ball in our way Thursday but it’s not going to be easy.”
While Dallas comes slumping after a 3-1 loss against a rotated Red Bulls side, the side believes it can turn it around. However, it must go through a tough stretch of matches, including another matchup with LAFC on Sunday. Time for adjustments is at a premium and players realize that they’ll have an opportunity to fix any errors or continue any positives quickly.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” right back Reggie Cannon said. “You get to figure out and kinda adapt to the first game to see what you were missing, what you were lacking and implement that in the second game. It also happened last year, where we went there away and came back and ultimately, won the game. It’s always a good feeling to have that adaptation you need to get those the three points in the next game.”
Dallas has faced tough environments before but LAFC’s form took a step back in the win column with a 3-0 victory over Columbus. At the head of that form is midfielder Carlos Vela, who has 12 goals and six assists in 12 matches for the team and is an early frontrunner for MLS MVP. Vela was not named to El Tri’s 2019 Gold Cup roster by Tata Martino, citing a personal decision, meaning that Vela will be with LAFC for much of the summer.
“At the beginning of the season, I saw a quote where he said he was striving to be the MVP of the league this year,” Cannon said. “And then you see the stuff he’s done. He has an unbelievable amount of assists, paired with an unbelievable amount of goals. He’s killing it this year. It’s almost a mindset that he doesn’t fear anything. He’s not afraid to take those shots, those curlers. For every highlight you see on MLS’ page that you see, he probably has another 10 shots that he misses but he’s taking those shots. That’s the important thing. It’s a lack of fear that makes Carlos Vela so dangerous.”
Vela provides creativity and presence that has seen him average a goal per game. That number seems to be frightening for defenders and players who go against him, but Dallas is not intimidated by the numbers or his recent form. The team believes while Vela is special, the preparation will be the same for any player and any team, regardless of stature and statistics.
“Our job is to make sure that he doesn’t get any accolades off of our backs,” midfielder Jacori Hayes said. “You just watch the film and try to shut him down as much as you can. He’s one of those guys who create out of nothing, so it’s going to be more important to pay attention and always turn turned on and do your best and I’m sure that’ll be enough.”