It's time for a special edition of 10 MLS Thoughts! This week, we're devoting all of this column's energy towards an in-depth preview of MLS Cup.
Let's get to it.
1. What will MLS Cup look like?
It’s easy to picture an impressive atmosphere this weekend between the Columbus Crew and LAFC: both the home Crew fans and the traveling contingent of LAFC supporters will be going crazy at Lower.com Field. But what will the actual game look like after the opening whistle blows?
Answering that macro question helps get to one of the biggest reasons why I’m stoked for this matchup.
If we know anything about the Columbus Crew, it’s that they’ll set the attacking tone. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing at home (like they will be on Saturday) or playing on the road. Crew manager Wilfried Nancy wants his team to control the ball, move it forward through pressure, and overload the opposing backline. Columbus led the league in possession percentage, touches in the attacking third, and non-penalty xG this year.
They’re married to the ball and they’re the best team in MLS when they have it.
LAFC, for their part, will be content to play against the ball. Under manager Steve Cherundolo, they’ve developed into a transition-focused team.
I mean, they just let the Houston Dynamo march into their house and take 70% possession in the Western Conference Final and none of their players blinked twice. LAFC created the better chances, controlled the field with their defensive structure, and waltzed right into MLS Cup. According to Opta, LAFC are the fifth-most direct team in all of MLS. Looking specifically at their road habits, they average 46.7% possession on the road.
Columbus will set the attacking tone, but LAFC will work all game long to dampen it long enough to attack the other way. That’s one of the reasons why this MLS Cup matchup is excellent: both teams do very different things, but they're both elite at those different things.