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The LAFC Preview

Things aren't about to get any easier for Charlotte. Having just completed arguably the easiest part of their schedule, Charlotte dropped too many points. Now, they face a road test against (arguably) the best team in the league, LAFC. Charlotte has taken 5 points all year on the road; I don't expect them to add to that tally Saturday night.

 

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standings)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC

53.4%

11.37

4.33

30 (28.3)

34 (31.5)

29 (11th in the East)

6.55 (6.80)

LAFC

52.5%

14.91

5.61

48 (38.6)

24 (25.1)

48 (1st in West)

6.77 (6.90)

Charlotte is in trouble, there are no two ways around this. LAFC is not going to sit back and counter--they want the ball. On the road, where Charlotte struggle, I expect LA to have possession, and a lot of it. Only Austin FC (50 Gs) have scored more goals than LAFC, however, LAFC has played one fewer game than Austin (and Charlotte). Their goal differential is a ridiculous +24, the best in the league. Their goals against are 2nd best in the league behind only Philadelphia. Their points per match are 2.22, by far the best in the league; they're the only team in the league above 2.0 points per match. Their shots per 90 are second in the league behind Atlanta, but they're first in shots on target per 90 by a fair margin (Atlanta is second in the league at 5.09 shots on target per 90). Finally, only Philadelphia has lost fewer games than LAFC, who have lost only 4.


In a nutshell, this is the elite of the elite in this league. The underlying metrics don't point to any luck--their xG and xGA are right in line with their actual scoring numbers. At home, they have lost one game (against Austin) and drawn two (against Philadelphia and Portland). Austin is 2nd in the West on 45 points, Philadelphia is 1st in the East on 45 points, and Portland is 7th in the West on 33 points. Sure, Portland is not elite this year, but they are good, while the other two are elite. LAFC's past 5 games are W-W-W-W-W. This does not bode well for Charlotte.

 
LAFC lineup at SKC, 7/23, via MLS
LAFC lineup at SKC, 7/23, via MLS

LAFC plays mostly in a 4-3-3. FBref has them in a 4-1-4-1 for a few games and two games in a back 3 (a 3-4-1-2 and a 3-5-2), but the majority of the year has seen them as a 4-3-3 team.


Injury/Suspension

The MLS Availability Report only lists defender Julian Gaines (pelvis) as out, which means that in addition to facing a really good team, Charlotte will be facing a healthy team.


Attack

LAFC lists 9 players as a forward: Carlos Vela (DP), Denis Bouanga (DP), Gareth Bale (somehow not a DP), Nathan Ordaz, Cristian Arango, Kwadwo Opoku, Christian Torres, Cal Jennings, and Latif Blessing. Ordaz has never made an appearance for LAFC in MLS, while Torres hasn't made one since 2020. Bouanga, meanwhile, was signed at the end of the transfer window, so like Charlotte's late additions, has not featured yet, probably due to visa issues.

LAFC lineup vs. Seattle, 7/29, via MLS
LAFC lineup vs. Seattle, 7/29, via MLS

Jennings only has 3 appearances for LA this year for just 19 minutes. He appeared in 6 games last year but has never scored at the MLS level. He does have 18 goals for the Las Vegas Lights (including 7 goals and 5 assists this year), however, he has never translated this production to the MLS. At 25, it's unclear whether he will.


Bale is one of the big-name additions LA has made. He appeared in 4 games (0 starts), but has 2 goals. People don't need me to tell them about Bale -- if you've followed world football for any period of time, you will know him. Bale began his career at Southampton. He moved to Tottenham at age 18 before going to Real Madrid 6 years later.


In many ways, his time with Madrid isn't necessarily looked at as a success. A lot of Real fans never really connected with him and, in fairness to them, he did miss quite a few games. With that said, over 176 appearances (149 starts), Bale scored 81 goals and had 40 assists. That's good for 0.57 goals/90 and 0.28 assists/90. Regardless of how you feel about him, when he's healthy, Bale scores. At 33, he's definitely on the downside of his career, but his move to MLS probably buys him a few more "elite" years (if he can stay healthy).

LAFC lineup vs. RSL, 8/6, via MLS
LAFC lineup vs. RSL, 8/6, via MLS

Over the past few years, Bale has mostly been a right-sided player, though he does drift inside. It's too early to say how LA will deploy him, but as long as he's healthy he's going to be dangerous. With a team that's going to be missing Corujo, I'm scared.


Blessing has made 20 appearances (10 starts) for LA this year, recording a single assist and no goals. The 25-year-old Ghanian was heavily linked to Charlotte during the window, but the move never materialized. Blessing is quickly losing time in this LA side, so a move probably would've done him good.


Since joining LAFC in 2018, Blessing has made 135 appearances with 100 starts. Throughout his first 5 years, most of his time was starting (for instance, he made 30 appearances with 25 starts last year). His best years were his first two with LA where he made 64 appearances, scoring 11 goals and having 9 assists over those two years. He's not topped 2 goals or 2 assists in a season since.


His usage has changed dramatically throughout his time with LA. In 2018, his heatmap shows a wide player who drifts inside when near the opponent's penalty area. In 2019, he's a central player with a right-sided bias. In 2020, he's even more biased on the right side. 2021 looks a lot like 2020, but he's drifting centrally more (almost like 2019). This year his map looks very much like 2019, just with fewer minutes. It's an odd profile because while one would think the shifting of his position has contributed to the decrease in his end product--and that is probably partially true--his best two years saw him playing in very different roles. It looks to me that LA has moved on from Blessing but will still use him. He can't be a focal point of a game plan for LA since they have so much other talent, but he's not to be ignored either.

Opoku heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Opoku heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Opoku is an example of the rich getting richer. LA can attract any player they want--whether domestically or internationally--yet they're also developing their own talent. Opoku is just turned 21 and is having a breakout year. He's made 23 appearances (17 starts), scoring 5 goals, and getting 2 assists. Before this year he had a total of 7 appearances and 2 assists to his name in MLS.


Opoku is small--either 5'7" if you believe MLS or 5'5" if you believe SofaScore. He's high energy and, when compared to other CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days of MLS, he pressures well (72nd percentile for pressures, 85th percentile for successful pressures, 97th percentile for pressures in the attacking 3rd). His percentiles for attacking are good for such a young player: 81st percentile for goals, 78th percentile for xG, and 89th percentile for shots on target and shots on target percentage. His passing needs a lot of work, but for such a young player that's to be expected. The fact that he puts in a shift defensively and is providing end product more than makes up for it.


The impact of him being a tertiary (at best) threat on this team probably helps, but you can't blame him for punishing teams that focus on his teammates. As his heatmap shows, he will play on either wing, but he's been starting on the left of the formation for the past few games.


It's hard to label anyone on this team as the "biggest" threat, but as of now, Arango or Vela probably qualify. Arango has made 23 appearances (17 starts), while Vela has 21 appearances (19 starts). Arango has 11 goals (1 PK) and 3 assists on the year, while Vela is at 7 goals (2 PKs) and 7 assists. It takes Charlotte's top 4 goal scorers (not including OG) to reach these two's combined goal total.

Arango heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Arango heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Arango is in his 2nd season with LA, having joined from Colombian side Millonarios. He made 17 appearances (15 starts) last year, scoring 14 goals and getting 3 assists. He's at 0.77 goals/90 for his career with LA. Now, in addition to his one PK this year, he had a whopping 5 PKs last year, so that number is inflated a bit. However, his 19 non-penalty goals come off of a 16.9 npxG, so he's not lucky. In his 3 prior seasons with Millonarios, he had 19 goals in 47 appearances, so he's a goal scorer, historically .


I honestly love Arango's heatmap. He's a striker -- a pure 9. Yes, he drops back to link play, but you don't find him out wide too much, or dropping back to defend. He's in the team to score, so you find him all over the penalty area. Again, LA's overall talent level allows him to focus on this and score, but it's great to see a player who knows what he is.


Vela is well-known to MLS (and just soccer) fans. The 33-year-old Mexican has been a household name for over a decade. Vela is in his 5th season with LAFC, having joined from Real Sociedad of La Liga in 2018 (7 seasons, 219 appearances). Before Sociedad, Vela had stops with Monterrey (2006-07 and 2007-08, 6 total appearances), Salamanca (2006-07, 31 appearances), Osasuna (2007-08, 33 appearances), Arsenal (2008-2011, 29 appearances), West Brom (2010-11, 8 appearances).

Vela heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Vela heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Before his move to Sociedad, Vela was never a scorer. His career high before this move was 8 goals for 2nd division Salamanca. In his seasons with Monterrey, Osasuna, Arsenal, and West Brom, he had a total of 8 goals and 5 assists. He exploded with Sociedad, at least for a few years. In his first 3 years with Sociedad, he scored 42 goals and had 27 assists, including 2013-14 when he had 16 goals and 12 assists. His final 4 were less productive, as he only managed a total of 24 goals and 9 assists, never managing double-digit scoring again.


With LA, he's made 107 appearances (95 starts) and scored 64 goals with 32 assists. Of course, over half of these goals came in 2019 when he scored 34 goals (9 PKs) and had 10 assists. Those 34 goals remains the most ever in a single MLS season. A big reason Vela has never reached those heights again has been game time. He made 31 appearances in 2019. Over the next two years, he would make 27. Like Bale, though, when Vela is healthy, he is elite for this league.

Vela Goal and Shot Creation (GCA, SCA) percentiles vs. CAMs/Wingers over the past 365 days of MLS, via FBref
Vela Goal and Shot Creation (GCA, SCA) percentiles vs. CAMs/Wingers over the past 365 days of MLS, via FBref

Vela is deadly anywhere near the penalty area. When it comes to goal and shot creation, there are very few better in the league than him, as his percentiles to the left show. His passing is good and ambitious (88th percentile for long passes attempted, 87th percentile for long passes completed, 98th percentile for assists, 98th percentile for key passes, 89th percentile for progressive passes) and he's a good carrier of the ball (83rd percentile for progressive carriers).


If there's any weakness in his game, it's his defensive ability. The only thing he does well is pressure (77th percentile for successful pressure percentage), however, he doesn't do it a lot (7th percentile for pressures). He doesn't tackle or track back much. Of course, the question is: does that matter? When you have a goal scorer and contributor like Vela, I don't think it does.


Midfield

LA lists 7 players as midfielders: Erik Dueñas, José Cifuentes, Ilie Sánchez, Kellyn Acosta, Francisco Ginella, Brian Rodríguez, Jhegson Méndez, and Daniel Crisotomo. Dueñas has yet to make an appearance for LA in MLS this year, although he did have 2 appearances in 2020 (when he was 15!).

Méndez passing percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref
Méndez passing percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref

Méndez has only made 3 appearances for LA so far this year, as he was recently acquired from Orlando. He had made 13 appearances (5 starts) with Orlando but hadn't scored or assisted on the year. With LA, he only has 60 total minutes of game time so far. As a defensive midfielder, the lack of goal contribution isn't surprising. He's also a deep playmaker. His defensive numbers (i.e., tackles, pressures) are good but not elite, however, his passing--specifically in the short and medium ranges--is elite. The percentage for long passing is also impressive, but he doesn't attempt enough of them for me to call him elite at it. This is not a knock on him, as he clearly knows how to pick a pass out. Additionally, tactics probably play a part in this and, to me, he looks like a player who helps his team retain possession and move the ball forward. LA probably didn't need Méndez, but as a late-game sub (or someone they might be looking to replace Acosta with), it makes sense. As with Opoku, the rich get richer.


Ginella is a young (23) Uruguayan in his first year with LA. He joined from Wanderers in the Uruguayan Primera División in 2020. He's been a consistent player for LA, but not necessarily a starter. He has 54 career appearances, but only 28 starts. He scored 1 goal and had 3 assists in his first year with LA, but hasn't had one of either since. He has 15 appearances (5 starts) so far for LA this year, but only 445 total minutes (that equates to 4.9 90s). He hasn't appeared in a game for LA since July 8 when he had 8 minutes in the midfield. With the addition of Méndez and the other options LA has at its disposal, time is going to continue to be hard to find for Ginella.

Cifuentes heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Cifuentes heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Acosta is a name most USMNT and MLS fans will know. He's now in his 10th professional season, having spent his first 6 with Dallas and the last 4 in Colorado. So far this year, he's made 22 appearances (19 starts) for LA, scoring 2 goals and getting 1 assist. Historically, those numbers are in line with what Acosta does; his career high in goals was in 2015 with 3. In every other year (except his first two professional seasons), he's had totals of 1 or 2. His career high in assists was 3 in 2016 with Dallas. In every other year (except for his first professional season), he's had either 1 or 2 assists per year. Due to LA's talent, there's a very real possibility that Acosta matches or surpasses a career high this year in goals and/or assists.

Cifuentes heatmap, 2021, via SofaScore
Cifuentes heatmap, 2021, via SofaScore

While Acosta can do a job at fullback, he's been mostly deployed as a CM this year. Further, when he starts, he normally completes the full 90.


Acosta is a good player, but he's not elite. Defensively he's not great and his passing numbers are just mediocre. He's a career 82.0% passer, but for a CM that's nothing to write home about. As his career stats show, he'll chip in the odd goal here and there, but he should not be counted on to do that. Basically, he's a middle-of-the-road, jack of all trades kind of player. That's a very useful player (and one Charlotte could probably use), but not one you have to be especially nervous about.

Cifuentes heatmap, 2020, via SofaScore
Cifuentes heatmap, 2020, via SofaScore

Cifuentes is the opposite. The 23-year-old Ecuadorian is in his 3rd season with LA and has been fantastic for them. He had 5 goals and 5 assists last year in 32 appearances (26 starts) but has been better this year with 6 goals and 5 assists in 22 appearances (18 starts).


As his heatmaps show, his role and positioning on the pitch have transitioned a bit from year to year. His map this year (above) looks much more similar to his 2020 (left) map. Last year, he was deployed more as a central attacking midfielder.


From a goal contribution perspective, Cifuentes is elite. He's in the 89th percentile for goals, 89th percentile for assists, 95th percentile for xG, and 96th percentile for xA. In fact, for LA he has 12 goals on 12.5 xG and 12 assists on 13.7 xA, so if anything, he's been a bit unlucky. As you can see from his GCA and SCA percentiles (below), he's hugely dangerous when LA is attacking.

Cifuentes GCA and SCA percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref
Cifuentes GCA and SCA percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via FBref

His passing could use some work, though he's aggressive with it (93rd percentile for through balls and 85th percentile for crosses). Defensively, he's better than you might expect as his tackles (64th percentile), dribblers tackled (85th percentile), and pressures (94th percentile) all show a player willing to defend and having success doing it. He's in the 99th percentile when it comes to defensive pressures in the attacking 3rd, so Charlotte's backline can expect to be hounded all game when they try to recycle the ball.


On the ball, Cifuentes is tricky. He wants to take people on (95th percentile for dribbles attempted) and is successful at it (96th percentile for dribbles completed, though only 32nd percentile for successful dribble percentage). He will also carry the ball up the pitch quite well (92nd percentile for progressive carries, 93rd percentile for carries into the final third, 91st percentile for carries into the penalty area).


LA has a lot of bigger-name players, but Cifuentes shouldn't (and can't) be forgotten about. The passing ability needs work, but at only 23 there's still time for that to come. Of course, these numbers do change if you compare him to CAMs/wingers (i.e., the passing actually becomes good, while his goal contribution numbers take a hit). However, based on where he's playing on the pitch and the formation LA is deploying, I would view him as an attack-minded CM, not a CAM (though he has played that role and could at a high level).

The final midfielder is Ilie Sánchez. A former player for Barcelona B, that should already tell you about his technical quality. He made 92 appearances for Barcelona B over 4 seasons but never broke through into the first-team squad. He moved to 1860 Munich for a year, before returning to Spain for a year with Elche. In 2017, Sánchez moved to MLS with Sporting KC, where he spent 5 seasons.


Since his move to KC, he's been a constant starter. He made 144 appearances for KC over 5 seasons with 134 of them being starts. He had 7 goals and 9 assists during this time with his best season being in 2018 when he had 4 goals and 3 assists. So far for LA, Sánchez has made 23 appearances (21 starts) and has a goal to his name.


Sánchez is a deep playmaker. He's +90 percentile for medium and long passes attempted and completed. His short passing, interestingly enough, is only in the 52nd percentile for passes completed and the 43rd percentile for passes attempted. He's 90.9% with his short passing percentage, which, while only in the 70th percentile, is nothing to scoff at. He attempts a lot of through balls (0.16 per 90, 85th percentile) and switches (2.47 per 90, 78th percentile).


When on the ball, he's not going to attempt to dribble around you or carry the ball that far up the field. He doesn't miscontrol the ball (90th percentile) or get dispossessed (96th percentile), which is impressive considering he's touching the ball 70.83 times per game (87th percentile).


Defensively, he's nothing to write home about. In one-on-one situations, he's solid (61st percentile for percentage of dribblers tackled), but he doesn't pressure much (3rd percentile) or tackle well overall (29th percentile). He is really good in the air (96th percentile for aerials won), though.


This midfield is interesting and made to attack. There isn't any midfielder that is a great defender, though most are serviceable, at least. Instead, it's a midfield made to supplement, complement, and contribute to the attack. Any of these 5 midfielders (Sánchez, Cifuentes, Acosta, Ginella, and Méndez) contribute when they're on the field and provide LA with a lot of depth. I would assert that any of these players, with maybe the exception of Ginella, would walk into our starting XI in the midfield. It's incredible depth to pair with their depth in attack.


Escobar defensive percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref
Escobar defensive percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref

Defense

LA lists 11 players as defenders. The big name is new acquisition--and, like Bale, somehow not DP--Giorgio Chiellini. Joining him are Ryan Hollingshead, Jesús David Murillo Largacha, Diego Palacios, Mamadou Fall, Sebastien Ibeagha, Franco Escobar, Eddie Segura, Antonio Leone, Mohamed Traore, and the injured Gaines.


Leone and Traore have yet to appear for LA this year, while Segura has 5 appearances for a total of only 143 minutes.


Hollingshead has recently lost his starting place at RB. He had started 13 of LA's first 17 games, but over the past 3 has only come off the bench. Like half of this roster, Hollingshead is in his first year with LA, having joined from Dallas where he spent his first 8 professional seasons. So far this year he has 4 goals and an assist for LA. This goal contribution isn't out of the ordinary for him either, as he had 18 goals and 10 assists over his 8 years with Dallas. As you would imagine from these numbers, he excels going forward but is just average with his passing and defending.

Escobar passing percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref
Escobar passing percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref

Escobar is the man who has taken Hollingshead's position at RB, starting 5 of their last 6 games. Escobar spent last season with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, the club he began his career at. He moved to Atlanta United in 2018 and spent 3 seasons with them (and Atlanta 2). Unlike Hollingshead, Escobar isn't a goal contributor. He has 3 career goals and 3 career assists, with 1 goal this year in 12 appearances (10 starts) with LA. If I had to guess, I imagine LA is looking to add a bit of defensive stability to the team. Considering the attacking nous they have further up the pitch, they can probably afford to sacrifice a bit in this spot.


On the left side, Palacios is the starter. He's made 18 appearances, all starts, this year. He's in his 4th season with LA and has been a consistent starter, making 63 total appearances (53 starts). He only has one career goal (this year) but does have 4 assists (2 last year and this year).


Palacios is only 23 and looks on his way to being a really good player. His passing percentiles, defensive percentiles, and possession percentiles are all solidly above average to elite. He very much likes to push up the pitch, which is why the inclusion of Escobar makes so much sense. Palacios is in the 86th percentile for attacking 3rd touches and the 84th percentile for middle 3rd touches. However, he's only in the 45th percentile for defensive 3rd touches. By playing Escobar opposite him, LA allows Palacios to stay up the pitch more and do what he does best, attack. Of course, as his percentiles below show, he's no slouch defensively. Yes, he's susceptible to getting dribbled past, but for such a young defender, his profile has a lot more positives than negatives.

Palacios defensive percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref
Palacios defensive percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via FBref

Before the arrival of Chiellini, LA's CBs were Murillo (19 appearances, 19 starts), Fall (14 appearances, 13 starts), and Ibeagha (13 appearances, 10 starts).


Fall has fallen out of favor. The 19-year-old made 12 starts and had 13 appearances through May 28. Since that date, he's made one appearance: a start on July 2. He made 19 appearances and had 4 goals as an 18-year-old last year, so LA clearly rates him. His lack of appearances, I would imagine, have more to do with LA's goals and ambitions this year, than their feelings about him. I can't say for sure, though, and maybe it is performance-based. Regardless, if he had to play, he's not a bad option.


Ibeagha was the one who took over for Fall, making 10 starts between April 24 and now. He hasn't started the past two games, though, and I imagine Chiellini has jumped him. Honestly, Ibeagha is very unimpressive. He's a poor passer (25th percentile for pass completion percentage) and doesn't excel in defense (41st percentile in pressures, 46th percentile in tackles, 4th percentile in interceptions). If LA doesn't trust Fall due to his age, then the acquisition of Chiellini makes sense because Ibeagha's numbers don't inspire confidence. I can't say I've seen him much (or if I have seen him, I haven't focused on him), so maybe the eye test rates him better. From a pure numbers perspective, though, he's best left on the bench.

Murillo defensive percentiles vs. MLS CBs over the past 365 days, via FBref
Murillo defensive percentiles vs. MLS CBs over the past 365 days, via FBref

Murillo is a pretty nailed-on starter for LA. He's 28 and in his 3rd season with LA, having joined from Independiente in the Colombian league. He's made 19 starts this year after 32 last year and has a goal and 3 assists this year.


Passing-wise, Murillo isn't great. Yes, the assist numbers are pretty, but everything else is poor (32nd percentile for pass completion percentage, 13 percentile for short passing completion percentage, 49th percentile for medium pass completion percentage, and 35th percentile for long pass completion percentage).


Defensively, Murillo is solid. He doesn't pressure at a super high rate, but he's good at it when he does. The tackle numbers and interception numbers are also good. He presents a challenge for attackers, to be sure.



They've paired Murillo with Chiellini, who is an ugly, horrible, dirty pla--I mean, a former Juventus great. He spent 17 seasons in Turin, where he made 425 appearances (403 starts). He had 26 goals and 18 assists in his time with Juve. He did spend two seasons with Livorno and one season with Fiorentina before his time with Juventus. He's played and started 4 games so far for LA.


At 37, it's unclear how many more years Chiellini has. When compared to CBs over the last 365 for the Big 5 European leagues, Chiellini's metrics still look decent. He can still pick out a pass, though the numbers are no longer elite across the board. His long passing (88th percentile for passes completed), key passes (96th percentile), passes into the final 3rd (96th percentile), and progressive passes (96th percentile) all still show an incredibly dangerous player on the ball. It's the rest of his passing (medium and short distances) that has regressed a bit from previous years. Compared with the rest of LA's options at CB, though, he's a downright godsend.


Defensively, he's nowhere near what he used to be. He can still be successful when he plays aggressively (84th percentile for successful pressure percentile), but he's not doing it as much as he used to (8th percentile for pressures in 2021-22 Serie A compared to 21st percentile in 2017-18 Serie A). When looking at the big European leagues, he won't get dribbled past often (82nd percentile) and still reads the game well (82nd percentile for blocks, 76th percentile for clearances, though the interceptions are low at 4th percentile).


There's still a decent player in there with Chiellini, but I'm not convinced the name matches the production anymore. Of course, this looks like a short-term move to me (duh). LA needed a CB to pair with Murillo. For this year, and possibly next, Chiellini can probably fill that role. I'll be curious to see how he adapts to MLS. He also did this last week:


I hate that man (as a player).


Goalkeeping

LAFC has two goalkeepers, John McCarthy and Maxime Crépeau. McCarthy has only made 1 start, while Crépeau has played in the remaining 22. He is in his first season with LA, having joined from Vancouver after "forcing" his way out.


Crépeau is a good goalkeeper, though he's not having quite as good of a season as he did last year. While his goals per 90 are down (1.00 this year) from last (1.15), his save percentage is also down to 66.7% this year (compared to 76.7% last year). When looking at the advanced goalkeeping metrics, Crépeau has had an up-and-down career. His PSxG+/- was +0.5 in 2019. It went down to -2.7 in 2020, although he was limited to 3.6 90s that year due to injury. It was a fantastic +7.7 last year but has dropped to -2.2 this year.


His PSxG per game is in the 87th percentile, however, his PSxG/SoT (or difficulty of shots he's faced) is fairly low (24th percentile). It's not necessarily unusual for good goalkeepers to have a low PSxG/SoT, as good goalkeeping is usually associated with good defense. LAFC has a good defense, so the fact Crépeau isn't facing hugely difficult shots isn't necessarily a concern. To further illustrate how good LA's defense has been, Crépeau is only facing 3.43 shots on target per game (9th percentile) and his saves per 90 is at only 2.62 (23rd percentile). He just doesn't have to make a lot of saves because he's not facing a ton of shots.


Crépeau is good at stopping crosses (85th percentile for crosses faced, 95th percentile for crosses stopped, 87th percentile for crosses stopped percentage) and he's in the 69th percentile for launch percentile (not including goal kicks).


To be honest, I'm not quite sure why his PSxG+/- is so low. The totality of his profile suggests a really good keeper (and his reputation backs that up). A guess I have is that because he's allowed so few goals (22) and one of them was a PK (which is included in PSxG+/-), that lone allowed PK is having an undue influence on the number. In the end, my math skills just aren't enough to fully explain it. If someone does know or has another theory, please let me know!


Conclusion

If it hasn't been made clear yet, this is absolutely one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. Anything short of a Western Conference Finals appearance would be a failure of a season for this team. In fact, anything short of winning the entire thing might be a failure. They have top-end talent, massive amounts of depth, and are producing results commensurate with those facts. At home or away, Charlotte is facing a team head and shoulders above them. There are very few players on this LA team that wouldn't walk into starting positions on Charlotte.


That's not to say there is no hope. The backline for LAFC is good, but aren't great passers. Perhaps you could pressure them into mistakes. The downside of that is if they break your press, you're in real trouble with the talent they have in the midfield and attack. Chiellini is also 37. He's still good, but if you could isolate him against Świderski, Gaines, or any other quick player and put in a good, well-timed ball, maybe you create a chance. That's of course easier said than done and players like Palacios and Murillo tend to provide cover.


If Charlotte has any hope in this game, defensively they're going to have to play their best game of the year--all without arguably their best defender in Corujo. Offensively, I wouldn't expect Charlotte to get many chances. Whatever ones we do get, we need to convert. We may only get one good look at goal this game. If we miss it, there probably won't be another.


At the end of the day, I think most reasonable Charlotte fans know getting points from this match is highly unlikely (it's why the Chicago defeat is so damning). I'd love to be surprised and have Charlotte get the upset, but I just don't see that happening.


Prediction: LAFC 4 - Charlotte 0

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