Atlanta United FC will travel to Banc of California Stadium to play Los Angeles FC this Friday, July 26, 2019. It is the only MLS regular season match-up of the year between these non-conference foes. Both teams come into the match on following tough conference matches this past weekend. Atlanta got past D.C. United on Sunday, with the help of some late game heroics by Pity Martinez. That win was enough to move them into sole possession of 2nd place in the East. LAFC on the other hand, was was handed just their 3rd defeat of the season by rivals LA Galaxy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick in what ended up being a 3-2 Galaxy win. It was the 1st of 2 El Traficos this season, and thus far, LAFC has failed to be their cross town rivals in 4 attempts dating back to last season. In spite of the loss, they remain 9 points clear of the Galaxy, and are 1st in the Western Conference table.
This match up is between a team in Atlanta that last year won the MLS Cup in what was only their 2nd year in the league, and LAFC who are favorites to win this year's Cup in just their second year in the league. This season, Atlanta seems to have taken a bit of a step back offensively, but are marginally improved defensively. Ultimately, it looks like they are one of the top teams in the East again, and have a very good chance of representing the conference in the MLS Cup Final again. LAFC appears to be a team without any real weaknesses as their 55 goals scored are by far the most in the MLS, and their 20 goals allowed are the fewest conceded in the league. Since this is the only match-up of the season between the two clubs, it will be an interesting gauge. Especially so, since if these two do meet in the finals that that game would likely be played in L.A., and Atlanta's struggles on the road are well documented.
Los Angeles FC VS Atlanta United Vital Information
This match can be viewed on ESPN in the United States, and can be seen on DAZN in Canada (local coverage also available in those markets). The match is at 7:00 PM EST on Friday, July 26, 2019.
Referee assignments have Ismail Elfath as the referee, with Corey Parker and Kyle Atkins as the assistants. Sergii Demianchuk is the 4th official, and VAR is being handled by Tim Ford and assistant Cameron Blanchard.
This will be the 2nd meeting all time between Atlanta United and LAFC. In the previous meeting, Atlanta has won by a score of 5-0, at Atlanta, on April 7, 2018. This will be the first regular season meeting between the two clubs at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The two did meet for a preseason friendly here back on February 10, 2019, a game that ended in a 2-2 draw, but does not count for any kind of official record keeping purposes.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
In this match all eyes are going to be on Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela, as well they should be. Martinez is coming off an MLS record 31 goal campaign last season, and is again leading the team in scoring with 16 this year. He has been in especially good form of late, and has scored in each of Atlanta's past 4 MLS matches, a total of 6 goals in those games. Vela has been even more impressive, and with 21 goals is on pace to break Martinez's record from last season. Last Friday night in El Trafico, at the end of the game the score was literally Zlatan 3 - Vela 2. Atlanta is going to need Martinez to do his best Zlatan impersonation this Friday if they hope to pull the upset, especially when you consider that Martinez has scored 46% of Atlanta's 35 total goals on the season. That percentage is even more incredible when taken into account that Martinez has playing in only 19 of 22 games for Atlanta.
It is impossible to understate just how good Carlos Vela has been this season. Not only does he have 21 goals in 20 games, but he has added 12 assists as well. This puts his goal involvement at an otherworldly 1.6 per game. He isn't just racking up stats in blowouts either, but is scoring when it counts. So far this season he has been credited with 3 game winning goals and 4 game winning assists. He has also gotten off 103 shots this year (43% on target). For a guy to be getting off 5 shots a game, with a quality percentage, and still passing enough to be getting an assist more than every other game is just mind boggling. By comparison, Martinez is getting off about 3.8 shots per game with a 42% on target percentage. Furthermore, Martinez has just 2 assists this year. In other words, Vela is taking about 1 and a half more shots per game, and those shots are a similar quality to the ones Martinez is taking. On top of that, he has 10 more assists! And Martinez is the reigning MVP that you could make a reasonable argument for him being the second best player in the league this year. If anyone but Vela wins the MVP this season, there should be an investigation.
Atlanta has been an absolute historically struggled on the road, but as of late, seem to be struggling even more than usual away from home. They have lost their past 5 away games in-a-row. This includes reason losses to teams at the wrong end of the table like Chicago Fire SC and Toronto FC, neither of whom would make the playoffs it they started today. To make matters worse for Atlanta, they are traveling on Friday to play an LAFC team that has not lost a game at home all year.
It is easy to focus on the offensive prowess of LAFC and the wizardry of Carlos Vela, but what truly separates them from the pack is their defense. They have allowed just 20 goals in 21 games this season, which you don't have to be a mathematician to know means they are allowing less than one per game. The total is 6 less than the have been allowed by FC Dallas, who are 2nd best in the conference in goals allowed. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller has been outstanding in turning away 73% of the 65 shots that he has faced, while recording 3 clean sheets. Perhaps more important though is the fact that LAFC has allowed just 77 shots on target against them through 21 games. That total of 3.67 per game allowed is even more impressive when considering that Vela is averaging 2.2 on target shot per game all by himself.
The MLS, due to the way it is structured is known for being one of the most competitive leagues in the world from top to bottom. It's rare to see a team really pull away from the pack, and not at all unusual to see teams who did not finish first in their conference end up meeting for the MLS Cup. For example, last year's final was a match-up between Atlanta, who had finished second in the East, against Portland Timbers, who had finished the regular season 5th in the West. LAFC seems to have thrown that concept out the window next year. They currently have a +35 goal difference on the season, Minnesota United FC is second best in the West at +8. Over in the Eastern Conference, the best teams in terms of goal difference are Atlanta and New York City FC, who are both +10. It is worth noting that the only team since 2015 to register a goal difference of +30 or better, or win their conference by more than 7 points was Toronto in 2017. That year Toronto finished with a +37 goal difference, won the Eastern Conference by 12 points, and eventually went on to win the MLS Cup Final 2-0 over Seattle. With LAFC on pace to eclipse those numbers, it would seem that the odds are strongly in favor of them going the whole way.
Los Angeles FC vs Atlanta United Prediction
If Atlanta is going to win this game, it is going to have to be a similar performance to what Zlatan did last Friday from Josef Martinez. Realistically, anything less than a hat trick out of Martinez is likely to not be enough to win this for Atlanta, and he just isn't the same kind of player in terms of creating his own shot the way that Zlatan is. Atlanta's other Martinez, "Pity" Martinez has begun to show some of the flashes of brilliance that made him the biggest name signing of the MLS offseason, but I just don't think this game has upset written all over it. Anytime you have a team that notoriously struggles on the road, going on the road to play at team that hasn't lost at home all year there isn't much reason to expect those trends to change.
Surprisingly, Atlanta's best shot is probably to try to play a defensive game, avoid getting behind, and try to win a low scoring match. Realistically, they would probably be happy to come out of this one with a draw. I just don't see an Atlanta team that conceded 5 goals at Chicago earlier this month to be able to hold down the highest scoring team in the league at their own yard. The natural Bermuda grass surface in Los Angeles doesn't play to Atlanta's favor either. Atlanta is still one of the best teams in the MLS, and they are almost unbeatable at home. If LAFC is to lose a home match this year then this is certainly an opponent that has the talent to beat them. That being said, I just don't think it's in the cards for Friday.
Prediction: Los Angeles FC 3 Atlanta United 1