Know Thy Enemy: Revs at Defending Champs LAFC Edition
It took New England 28 years to start of a season with two straight wins, getting a third win tonight could be a tough task.
The New England Revolution look to continue their perfect start to 2023 but face their toughest test at BMO Field and defending MLS Cup Champions Los Angeles FC tonight at 1030 EDT.
The Revs have won their first two matches against Charlotte FC and Houston Dynamo, while LAFC saw their season opener with LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl postponed due to weather. Undeterred by missing out on an early rivalry match, the black and gold have won their first two games against the Portland Timbers and Alajuelense in CCL play.
With their second leg in the CCL looming on Wednesday, it’s possible that LAFC could rotate their lineup though a tremendous 3-0 road win in Costa Rica have set them up well to advance to the quarterfinals. Denis Bouanga was the hero midweek with a second half hat trick as the LAFC Designated Player looks to find his stride in his first full season in MLS.
New England is still dealing with a fairly significant injury list, but could get another option back up top in the return of Gustavo Bou. Giacomo Vrioni and Bobby Wood have each started one game, with Wood being a lively bright spot up top so far this season.
Bruce Arena finding the right combination and balance in his attacking group will be one of the keys to the Revs success this year, and going toe to toe against a vaunted LAFC strike team in Carlos Vela, Bouanga, and Kwadwo Opoku will be a challenge if the match turns into a goalfest.
Perhaps former LAFC midfielder Latif Blessing has some insight on how to beat his old team. We however as always turn to our friend and maven of all things LA soccer, Alicia Rodriguez of Angels on Parade for her take on LAFC’s season goals, how good the Black and Gold strikers could be, and a legendary Rhino in net.
No questions to answer on my end but head on over to Alicia’s site for all their coverage on tonight’s contest.
1) LAFC put out a first choice lineup in the CCL at Alajuelense and looked really good in the first leg, how much of a priority is the CCL for a team who also expect to compete for the Shield and MLS Cup? Will we see a rotated squad against the Revs Sunday night
1. I'll be honest, I was expecting more rotation midweek in Champions League. But I guess because it was just LAFC's second competitive game of the season, they could afford to play the same lineup again in quick succession. I do think LAFC will be taking CCL seriously this year and a 3-0 first-leg away win on Thursday is a good sign for advancement, and I think LAFC will aim to be as competitive in as many competitions as long as possible this year. Obviously, you need some luck to even be in the running for multiple competitions, but hey, you can't win if you don't try, right?
I do think squad rotations will begin soon, either this game or the CCL return leg on Wednesday. But given the season is young, if changes are made to LAFC's XI on Sunday, I'd expect only a few new faces. Time will tell!
2) How important is DP striker Denis Bouanga's early season to LAFC and how much more dangerous does he make this team? Is Bouanga-Vela-Opoku the best or most compatible attacking line LAFC has ever had?
2. Bouanga didn't have great scoring numbers for LAFC the final months of last season after he arrived, but unlike the cadre of other midseason additions, he was thrown into the action *immediately.* It was a sink-or-swim situation, with Bouanga the youngest player of the attacking additions, and LAFC needed him right away. But he has a knack for scoring timely goals -- he scored the goal to clinch the Supporters' Shield to open his MLS account, and then had a brace in the playoffs to propel LAFC past the rival Galaxy -- and he's coming off a hat trick in CCL on Thursday. I was a bit skeptical of the hype coming in preseason that Bouanga could be an MLS Golden Boot contender this year, not because I don't think he'll score, but I just don't know if he'll score at a pace that will lead the league. There's a lot of teams in the league these days!
As far as how compatible Bouanga-Vela-Opoku is, I do think they make a lot of sense together and they are all very fluid players so we'll see a lot of False 9 play, players flipping the side of the field they're on and taking turns in the middle. But I'm not sure if they're the best to date for LAFC. Diego Rossi was a brilliant player who won an MLS Golden Boot himself, and the likes of Adama Diomande, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Cristian Arango have all found success for LAFC. The difference is unless Opoku ends up being the true No. 9 and the other two are wide forwards, this is a different look for LAFC and we'll see how it pans out in attack.
3) Former Rochester Rhinos legend John McCarthy in goal is a familiar name around these parts, how has his start to the year been? Also, any other players who have stepped up and played well or someone who needs to get going after some early season struggles?
3. I think around the league LAFC are seen as the rich, snooty Californians, but McCarthy's story in MLS Cup is the kind of underdog story anyone can get behind. After serving as backup goalkeeper all season last year, he was pressed into action in extra time of the Final when Maxime Crepeau broke his leg while picking up a red card. A few minutes later, McCarthy conceded, and LAFC were about to lose the cup at home! But Gareth Bale scored the latest-ever goal in MLS Cup Final history, and in the penalty shootout to decide an even game, McCarthy made two saves and was named MLS Cup MVP. Not bad for a player who officially played just three minutes in the final.
Crepeau is on the mend but he looks to be out a while longer, while LAFC rather surprisingly signed a veteran, Eldin Jakupvic, and I think there's a decent chance he gets a look over the course of the season. But McCarthy has been solid so far, picking up two wins in two tries including one shutout. I think he knows this is probably his last best chance to grab the starter's spot for good in MLS, so if he can go on a heater, who knows?
Otherwise, LAFC are returning pretty much all their starters from last year, so it's hard to call on anyone to step up when the faces are the same and they're off to a good start again this year. We'll see.
Projected lineup: GK - McCarthy; Hollingshead, Murillo, Long, Palacios; Acosta, Tillman, Cifuentes; Bouanga, Opoku, Vela
Prediction: Revs win 2-1