Record-Threatening LAFC Continue To Roll Heading Into Second Half Of Season

Carlos Vela

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Almost two weeks ago, Bob Bradley's Los Angeles FC side went to Denver and lost 1-0 to the Colorado Rapids. There were some similarities between that defeat and LAFC's only other one this year: a 1-0 set back at the Vancouver Whitecaps. Both of those defeats came on the road against the two teams that currently occupy the bottom spots in MLS' Western Conference. 

Maybe there was a crack in the armor forming in Bradley's side, one which had otherwise blown the doors off of the competition otherwise through the first four months of the season. Maybe the Black and Gold, who had retained the services of Carlos Vela during the Concacaf Gold Cup, might just slow down, as many expected.

Instead, LAFC followed up that defeat by trouncing Sporting Kansas City 5-1 on the road and provided an encore last weekend, getting revenge on the 'Caps with a resounding 6-1 victory at Banc of California Stadium. Fear not: Los Angeles are going to continue their assault on the MLS record books well into the summer with the way they are currently playing.

Any discussion about LAFC has to start of course with Vela, who is on track to have the best individual season in MLS history. Last year, Atlanta United's Josef Martinez set the league record with 31 goals in a season. With 19 goals so far this year, Vela is on pace for 34. Meanwhile, in 2015, his debut season, Sebastian Giovinco smashed the league record by recording 38 goals scored and assists. Through 19 games this year, Vela is already at 31, with 12 helpers to go along with his 19 goals.

The only record Vela might not break is Carlos Valderrama's unthinkable 26-assist record set back in 2000. Even so, Vela is on pace to break the 20-assist mark, with Sacha Kljestan the only other player in the league's history to reach that number.

Those numbers have helped LAFC score three or more goals in nine games already in 2019, just under half of the contests they have played. Their +34 goal differential is threefold of the next closest team (the Philadelphia Union at +11). 

With 13 wins from their 19 games, the Black and Gold are on pace to single-season points record, set in 2018 by the New York Red Bulls. LAFC are the only team in MLS this year to have a points-per-game average over two, and their current pace would leave them with 76 points this year, five more than NYRB's last year. 

And Bradley has gotten the most out of his team as a unit while certain players haven't quite hit the individuals highs that they are capable of. Less than a year into his tenure in LA, Andre Horta was shipped back to Portugal in June. The midfielder never seemed to click in his manager's system and was limited to just two starts in 2019. Meanwhile, Adama Diomande and Christian Ramirez have each scored just four goals this year, as neither has been able to solidify their hold on the striker position in Bradley's set up.

Lee Nguyen, brought in last year to be the creative engine in the midfield, has just one assist and no goals in 10 games this year, only five of which have been starts.

All of that is countered, though, by the output that the former USA manager has gotten out of several less-heralded players. Latif Blessing, better known as a wide midfielder at SKC and in his first year in California, has been transformed into a menace as a central midfielder, capable of making noticeable contributions at either end of the field.

Mark-Anthony Kaye, who couldn't stick with Toronto FC early in his career, earning his stripes in USL, has turned into one of the league's best midfielders under Bradley's tutelage. Whenever LAFC play, all eyes are on Vela, but Kaye might be just as integral to the team's success this year, after returning from a nasty ankle injury suffered last summer. 

And Diego Rossi, who shined in his debut MLS season last year, continues to be a constant threat opposite Vela, having already contributed 10 goals and five assists to the campaign, almost equaling his totals from 2018.

The pressure will start to mount for the second-year club, having already set the marker for what is possible in 2019. The challenge starts to increase this week when LAFC host the Portland Timbers tonight in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Waiting on the other side of that game is a Friday tilt a the Houston Dynamo, a game which kicks off less than 48 hours after the start of the Open Cup game. 

All these midseason accolades are nice of course, but the real testament to how their season will ultimately be judged will be how much silverware they have grabbed by the end of the year. A treble isn't out of the question, but making use of the designated player spot vacated by Horta might help catapult the Black and Gold from one of the best ever teams in league history into another stratosphere. 

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