LAFC's 4-2 win against the Montreal Impact on Friday, May 24, was one of those wonky, high-scoring games that included an own goal, a PK, a deflection off a keeper, a golazo from a newbie right back, and a near comeback from the losing team, who were trailing by four (4!) goals up until the 70th minute.
(Considering what we all went through the past few weeks with Champions League, nobody wants that.)
In their first meeting since April 2018, LAFC treated Montreal to a veritable training session at the Banc of California Stadium—and at this practice, the visitors were the yellow cones.
The home team completed 100 more passes, won more 50/50's, and outshot their opponents by nearly 3 to 1 during the first half.
Even when LAFC captain Carlos Vela seemed uncharacteristically off-balance, the supporting cast around him picked up the slack. Developing starters like Mark-Anthony Kaye and Christian Ramirez seemed to have found their footing, looking more confident, collected, on par with the usual standouts like Vela, Latif Blessing, and Eduard Atuesta.
The first goal of the night came just 7 minutes in when Ramirez pressured a pass-back to Montreal keeper Evan Bush, causing a bad clearance that deflected off the striker and straight into the net. Ramirez almost had another one just 10 minutes later with a wide open look at goal he couldn't quite angle around the keeper.
LAFC continued to keep up the pace, high-pressuring the Montreal defense, and looking at ease when in possession. Tactically, they played more laterally, utilizing center mids Kaye and Atuesta and relying less on flash runs up the line.
Their patience paid off when Atuesta sent a razor-thin through-ball past Montreal's backline to Vela, who slotted it past Montreal's keeper for LAFC's second goal.
Vela, who now has 15 goals in 15 matches, followed this up with an assist to Diego Rossi, who squared it to an unmarked Blessing in the box for an easy knock into net.
Predictions going into the match did not fare well for Montreal, and the forecast, at least for the first half, seemed to be on point. Despite LAFC keeper Taylor Miller fumbling a bouncing ball in the box, Montreal had little offensive presence—if they couldn't capitalize on that opportunity, it seemed unlikely they would score at all. Instead, the visiting team, like many of LAFC's opponents as of late, played a decisively defensive strategy, packing their back third and hoping for the best.
Montreal captain and Designated Player Ignacio Piatti, back from a two-month injury, had a hat trick the last time the two sides met (LAFC won 5-3), but had few opportunities this go-around to create any real threat.
Perhaps the most thrilling moment of the night came shortly in the second half when young LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon guided a beautiful header into the corner pocket, off a Vela corner kick. (This brings Vela's assist count to 9 for the season).
Blackmon started at right back for an injured Steven Beitashour, and was apparently encouraged by coach Bob Bradley to play like Sergio Ramos—"without fear"—going into the game.
LAFC has one of the best home records in the league, with 17 wins, 8 draws, and just 2 losses since their debut season. Their electric stadium atmosphere undoubtedly plays a major part in the club's success, orchestrated by their massive supporters section, the 3525. Tonight was no exception as the club celebrated Pride Night and opened the evening with a majestic Freddie Mercury tifo.
For the first part of the second half, LAFC continued to create multiple goal-scoring opportunities, including a questionable offsides call on an otherwise sublime Vela goal. And with Ramirez blasting long-range shots, and Andre Horta (in for Atuesta) attempting a half-field lob over Montreal's keeper, all signs pointed to LAFC feeling themselves.
This all changed at 70 minutes when Rossi, who appeared to be struggling all match, got bodied off a ball, triggering a dangerous Montreal counterattack. Rossi went down earlier in the first half with a potential injury, which may have factored into his performance. His mistake allowed Montreal's Maximiliano Urruti to send a diagonal cross through the box that hit off unlucky LAFC defender Eddie Segura for an own goal.
Shortly after, LAFC's midfield was caught flatfooted, prompting center back Walker Zimmerman to foul Montreal's Anthony Jackson-Hamel in the box. A PK was awarded and Montreal's Saphir Taider cleanly finished it off, bringing the score to 4-2.
Rossi had a chance to redeem himself when LAFC responded minutes later with a Horta-led attack, but curled it just wide in front of an open goal.
Post-match, LAFC manager Bob Bradley was the first to admit he was not happy with the team's performance in the last part of the game, but emphasized the "good football" they had been playing the majority of the match.
Despite LAFC's remarkable run to date, the team has yet to be seriously challenged by an equally offensive team. It seems this will be their real test in the future, in which case they will need to clean up the mistakes they have been thus far good enough to get away with.
LAFC currently top the Western Conference, and lead the bid for the Supporters' Shield. They will be on the road for the next six weeks.
LAFC: Saturday, June 1 at Portland Timbers
MTL: Wednesday, May 29 vs. Real Salt Lake