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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. LAFC

It isn’t quite make or break yet, but any points in this one could be vital for a playoff push.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Friday is here once again and that means its time to check in on Orlando City’s opponents for this weekend. While it isn’t quite do or die time for the Lions, even one point in tomorrow’s game would be extremely helpful if the Lions want to make a late surge towards the playoffs.

This week brings LAFC to town for the Lions’ annual meeting with the team from Los Angeles. In order to get a better idea of how LAFC’s season has gone I spoke to Alicia Rodriguez, manager of SBNation’s Angels on Parade, and she was gracious enough to give us a great update on how the season has gone for the team leading the race for the Supporter’s Shield. I also answered her questions and you can read those answers over at their place.

It’s not exactly a secret that LAFC is the dominant power in MLS this season. If you had to pick the main reason for the team’s success this year what would it be?

Alicia Rodriguez: With the team playing very well, it’s hard to pinpoint one reason why it’s good times. I guess the most honest answer is it’s all falling into place. MVP-caliber leader? Check, Carlos Vela has been phenomenal. Improved defense? Yep, they’ve largely ironed out the issues that plagued them last season. Good coaching? Definitely, players are plugged in and engaged with Bob Bradley. Balancing a good XI with good depth? Some LAFC fans don’t think LAFC have nearly enough depth, but they’ve been slowly expanding their options, with the likes of Lee Nguyen, Tristan Blackmon, and recently, Mohamed El-Munir coming in to play a role when the team needs them. The season isn’t over yet but it’s hard to argue LAFC haven’t improved across the board this season, and that’s impressive, and hopefully it leads to a trophy or two.

Is there anything that this team does badly? If it has a weakness that can be exploited, what would it be?

AR: I think two approaches have been difficult for LAFC to contend with this year: One is teams that have an overwhelming energy, that basically metaphorically punch them in the mouth and dare them to come back. Really, only the Galaxy have pulled this off this year and it’s a definite sore spot for LAFC. But a few other teams have tried it and pushed LAFC to the brink before they did indeed come back.

The more conventional approach is for teams to “park the bus,” sit deep defensively and then try to strike on the counterattack. All of LAFC’s other losses have been from this strategy to one extent or another, best exemplified last weekend with Minnesota United beating LAFC at home, the first league home loss for LAFC this season. To be honest, I’m surprised more teams haven’t done this, since it’s well known that teams that like to hold the ball struggle to break down tightly packed defenses, but I assume more teams will be trying this or a variation of it in the coming weeks in an attempt to stop LAFC in one way or another. Also, obviously injuries can derail things. Carlos Vela has a hamstring injury, it doesn’t look too severe but until he’s back and playing well, it’s a real worry.

Last year LAFC made a surprising first-round exit from the postseason during a home loss to Real Salt Lake. What has to happen for LAFC to carry this year’s regular-season momentum all the way to the MLS Cup final?

AR: LAFC lost to Real Salt Lake in the playoffs last year, and it was a major shock. I think it boiled down to an occasion where RSL had nothing to lose and played free, LAFC knew they were favored and played tight and had a couple breakdowns/fluke plays, and in 90 minutes, that was that. I think the sudden end to the season was jarring for the fan base and entire organization, but credit to them for stepping it up this season and improving in the second season.

For any team to win MLS Cup, you need a combination of competence and luck. At this point, LAFC should win the Supporters’ Shield — if they don’t it will be an epic collapse. But the playoffs are a different beast. In LAFC’s case, it will be a matter of winning one game, then another, then another and so on, not getting caught up in their status in history or resting on the laurels of the regular season. But you never know what will happen in 90 minutes, and when the playoffs roll around, we’ll find out if LAFC have the stuff to win MLS Cup this year.

Are there any call-ups, injuries, or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

AR: LAFC are missing a bunch of players. Carlos Vela has the hamstring injury; we’ll see if he even travels to Florida or not. Aside from that, they’ll be missing several players on international duty: Walker Zimmerman (USA), Diego Palacios (Ecuador), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Canada), Eduard Atuesta (Colombia U-23s), Brian Rodriguez (Uruguay) and Peter-Lee Vassell (Jamaica). The biggest concern is midfield, since two-thirds of the starters are out, and LAFC don’t have any real depth beyond Nguyen now.

Projected lineup: Pablo Sisniega; Steven Beitashour, Tristan Blackmon, Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey; Latif Blessing, Lee Nguyen, Josh Perez; Adrien Perez, Adama Diomande, Diego Rossi

Prediction: 1-0 LAFC win.

That’ll be all for me, big thanks again to Alicia for the in-depth look at LAFC.