Since CONCACAF decided to deny us credentials for tomorrow’s game between LAFC and Club León, we are going to spend this preview talking about the incompetence of...nah, just kidding. In all seriousness, though, it should be a good game at the Banc of California Stadium. Here are three things to watch for from the Second Leg of the only MLS-Liga MX matchup of the Round of 16.
The all empowering away goal. It is no secret that a single León away goal would completely change the direction of this tie. In that regard, it is imperative LAFC get their pregame jitters out of the way as soon as possible. In the past, LAFC coach Bob Bradley has complained about his team not being able to match the intensity of rival teams in big games, and down 2-0 in the scoreline against one of the best teams in Mexico, that is exactly what his team is going to need to do.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. León were technically superior in every facet of the First Leg. They completely outplayed LAFC, and if it weren’t for their below average finishing, they could have easily won the game by a bigger scoreline. While it remains to be seen if León coach Ignacio Ambriz will play it safe or go for the kill, it’s going to be interesting to see if LAFC manage to settle down quickly and try to at least get something going with their interior midfielders and Carlos Vela. In fact, that’s when LAFC looked best in the First Leg, when new signing Francisco Ginella found some sort of association with his forwards.
LAFC’s shaky defense. Yeah, this is sort of piggybacking on the first point, but I think it is something worth pointing out by itself. The reality is LAFC’s backline looked exposable in the First Leg, and they’ll be going up against what is currently the third best offense in all of Liga MX.
In some respect, getting rid of Walker Zimmerman made some sense for LAFC, but without an adequate replacement, they are going struggle a lot here and in the foreseeable future. Yes, defensive stability is hard to come by in Major League Soccer, but when you have an attack-minded team like LAFC and there is no collective effort to defend together, you leave yourself wide open at the back, especially when you have several players out of position. Put it this way, LAFC are not Manchester City. Barring a picture perfect performance from the MLS side where players are tracking back and demonstrating a high level of intensity with just one official game under their belt, La Fiera is going to find plenty of space to expose.
What about Carlos Vela? A big chunk of the narrative around this game continues to be on Carlos Vela. After all, he is the big Mexican superstar in a game between an MLS side and a Mexican one. To be fair, Vela didn’t have a bad game in the First Leg, but those who were expecting to see his magic in Guanajuato were left pretty disappointed. The circumstances here are obviously a little more favorable, but it’s still hard to envision him scoring a hat-trick against a team like León.
But this is the thing about Vela. In theory, if LAFC manage to settle down quickly and maybe even grab an early goal, then these kind of ties become all about momentum. It doesn’t matter who you are, finding yourself in high-pressured situations away from home is never easy, and León aren’t exactly Club América when it comes to defending. Vela is the kind of player that can inspire a moment of magic. The kind of player that when margins are small can give you the edge you need. If for whatever reason León let this game get close, Vela has the chance to be the factor that everybody expected him to be.