Dynamo Theory (DT): We have yet to see Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi on the field together this season. Can we expect them in the lineup Saturday and what has LAFC missed without their two stars?
Angels on Parade (AoP): Bob Bradley said on Thursday that Rossi is available, and so presumably ready to start, while Vela is not expected to play as he continues to recover from a quad injury. Bradley tends to be a straight shooter during media availability so I take him at his word on that.
Given that Rossi and Vela are the last two MLS Golden Boot winners, losing them makes a huge difference, obviously, but the team has largely weathered regular season games without them on the attacking end. Obviously, their game-breaking ability gives LAFC a fallback option in most games, and having Rossi back will be big, since he typically plays in basically every game and he’s pretty much never been hurt while with LAFC. I expect Houston will try to cover him throughout the game, obviously, but LAFC have other options that could still beat the Dynamo.
DT: Bob Bradley has a Supporter Shield in his time with LAFC and came minutes away from winning the CONCACAF Champions League, but the club has not yet made it to a MLS Cup Final. With all the expectations on this team in 2021 and no CCL to add to their schedule, is this a MLS Cup or bust season for LAFC?
AoP: They’ve said they want “trophies” and I don’t think they would turn down another Shield or a U.S. Open Cup if that competition does take place this year and LAFC are in it, but yes, the unspoken expectation is that they need to really go for MLS Cup this year. Rossi won’t be on the club forever, neither will Vela, and while influential midfielder Eduard Atuesta has or will sign a contract extension, they can’t keep this full core around forever. So yes, they need to win a trophy to consider this season a success and they fully buy into that vision. If it’s an MLS Cup, they would be thrilled to get to the top of that mountain, no question about it.
DT: For all the marquee players LAFC have, they don’t have that star center forward some might expect from a team like this. How does Bob Bradley use his number 9 and who fills this role for LAFC?
AoP: It’s been a bit of a rotating door to open the season with the injuries to Rossi and Vela. While those two usually play as wide forwards in a three-man forward line, the main options in the middle are Danny Musovski and Corey Baird. Both can play out wide as well, but Musovski started Week 1 in the middle and he helped set up Baird’s winner against Austin FC. I think Bradley will go with the hot hand over the course of the season.
Last week, with Musovski, Rossi and Vela all out injured, Bradley went to Pep Guardiola’s playbook and played midfielder Jose Cifuentes as a false No. 9. Cifuentes has good attacking instincts and all in all, he fit in pretty well in somewhat difficult circumstances against a tough opponent in Seattle. The forward line didn’t score in the game, but missing their top three starters, they improvised pretty well and still ended up with a draw on the day.