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Los Angeles FC-D.C. United Preview
The MLS season is far too young for there to be any statement games or possible playoff previews.
But as far as April matchups go, Saturday's clash of unbeaten teams between Los Angeles FC (4-0-1) and D.C. United (3-0-1) is about as good as it gets.
"I don't want to say any predictions now for MLS Cup or anything, but I think this could be a matchup in the future - East versus West for it all," LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said. "It's going to be a nice game because we're both at a high point in our season right now."
The two squads sit atop their respective conferences early in the season and have the two best goal differentials in the league.
LAFC's Carlos Vela is the MLS goal leader through five games, finding the back of the net six times, and is tied for the league lead with three assists.
The Mexican national registered his first MLS hat trick and added an assist last weekend in LAFC's 5-0 drubbing of lowly San Jose, earning him league Player of the Week honors.
Vela's first goal was an absolute gift, as Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega whiffed on a clearance attempt, allowing Vela to casually walk the ball into the net. His third was a masterpiece from 25 yards out that curled just inside the far post.
After the match coach Bob Bradley was asked if Vela is the best player in the league at the moment, and he answered with a shrug and a smile.
"Look, there's a lot of good players," Bradley said. "But Vela is certainly one of them."
Another one of those players among the league's best is D.C. striker Wayne Rooney, who's been the cornerstone of a two-year turnaround after a 9-20-5 campaign in 2017.
The English legend scored a highlight-reel free kick goal from a nearly impossible angle and picked up an assist last weekend as United beat Orlando City SC 2-1, despite some inconsistent play from the team as a whole.
"On the day, we weren't very sharp, we looked like it was a real struggle for large portions of the game," head coach Ben Olsen said. "It's what we got Wayne for, to make special plays, and he did that tonight."
The victory ended D.C. United's 11-game road winless streak that dated back to May 19 last season.
While Rooney's four goals and three assists have been vital to United's unbeaten start, the Black and Red has locked opponents down, keeping clean sheets in their first three matches before finally conceding a goal in the 63rd minute to Orlando City last weekend.
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid went a club-record 435 minutes without letting a ball into the net, dating back to last season. Hamid and the team's back line will face a stiff test as LAFC's 15 goals lead MLS.
United's stout defense will be without left back James Mora, who broke his jaw and suffered a concussion in last weekend's win.
Updated April 5, 2019