Los Angeles FC suffered a playoff heartbreak at home for the second consecutive season.
Bob Bradley’s side improved from its first season by reinforcing its star-studded lineup and producing the best defensive record in Major League Soccer.
“Nobody expected this end for our season, but we know in the playoffs it’s one game,” LAFC forward Carlos Vela said. “If they [other teams] make better plays than you, then you’re out.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer put together a tactical game plan that limited the output of Vela, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez.
In total, the Supporters’ Shield winner put four of its 14 shots on target, with Golden Boot champion Vela placing one attempt on net.
“They had numbers back, they clogged the middle, they defended in a compact and strong way and then, if you don’t move the ball quick enough, when you get up there it’s not easy to get shots,” Bradley said. “I think we had four shots on goal. In those ways … I don’t think we’re good enough on the night, it’s moving the ball quicker so we get a little bit of an advantage. In some cases, it’s winning the ball a little bit higher so we can create an advantage that way.”
Despite falling short of playing in MLS Cup, the Black-and-Gold have plenty to build off of in a short existence.
LAFC’s defense gave up 15 fewer goals than its expansion season and formed an attacking core of Vela, Rossi, Rodriguez and Adama Diomande that few clubs were able to stop.
With a strong foundation in place, LAFC is in a good position to return to this spot in 2020 and make it even further.
“In the end, we have to be proud of what we’ve done all year and learn,” Vela said. “We have to learn. We just have two years as a club. We have a lot of things to improve. We have to change some things and get stronger to come back next year and be better. It’s the only way to be a good club.”
What LAFC achieved in 2019 can’t go without praise — 72 points, a +48 goal differential, the first trophy in club history.
Sure, the playoff exit with the potential of hosting MLS Cup leaves a sour taste, but the season can still be viewed as success.
In just two seasons, Bradley has instilled an identity into his side and he’s gotten world-class players, MLS journeymen and role players to buy into one goal, something rarely seen with expansion sides.
Now, LAFC has to find a way to make it successful in the new one-off playoff format. Thy are not the only Shield winners to struggle. Toronto FC, in 2017, is the only team to complete the Shield/MLS Cup double since 2012.
“This game, this loss, it hurts,” LAFC midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “I don’t think we can try to look and reflect now, I’m sure in a couple of days when we get together, we’ll reflect and see how good of a season we’ve had, but today, no. It just hurts because of the season we had and we feel like we deserve more.”