For LAFC fans, it's a good reminder that there's still 28 games to go this season. Because the club's first eight matches have fallen far short of expectation, even for the most stalwart supporters.
The Western Conference's 9th place team squared off against the Houston Dynamo (5th in the WC) on Sat., June 19, at the Banc of California Stadium, where they played at home to a full capacity crowd for the first time this year. Both teams were returning fresh off the league's multi-week international break, but the period of time was arguably more important for LAFC, a club in major need of some R&R—rehab and regrouping.
Early injuries have dogged a number of the club's top performers, including Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Corey Baird, Kim Moon-Hwan, and now Kwadwo Opoku. That, coupled with losses to crosstown rivals LA Galaxy, NYCFC, and now two draws against a Houston side widely regarded as massive underdogs, have no doubt taken a toll on the club's morale.
Going into the first half, LAFC dominated possession, posting five shots and 228 accurate passes. Compare that to Houston's zero (yes, zero) shots on goal and 104 accurate passes. Yet come halftime, the score on both sides was identical. Throughout the match, LAFC had a mixture of promising, somewhat close, and clear-cut-should-be-in-the-back-of-the-net opportunities, with 2019 Golden Boot winner Rossi making the right runs but unable to get past Houston keeper Marko Maric. Mark-Anthony Kaye also had a slurry of looks at goal, most notably a perfectly squared pass from Vela which Kaye dinked over the goal.
Come second half, the polarizing midfielder was replaced with Bryce Duke, whose presence immediately had a positive energizing effect. The 20-year-old competently maintained possession in the midfield, which in turn allowed for more optimistic runs from Rossi and Vela, while also enabling the defense to play out of the back.
Mere minutes into the second leg, Jose Cifuentes shot a rocket from distance and earned the Black & Gold a corner kick, which he then finished himself to make it 1-0. Within 8 minutes, however, the visitors equalized, thanks to some speedy ballwork from Fafà Picault, finished off by Maximiliano Urruti.
Later that half, Vela was subbed out following a hard tackle, giving Raheem Edwards some important game minutes, along with Cal Jennings for Corey Baird, and Kim Moon-Hwan for Tristan Blackmon. Surprisingly, one of the bright spots of LAFC's match came in the form of their defensive line—including keeper Pablo Sisniega—a statement you would be hard pressed to hear just two months ago. With a disappointing draw on their hands and far more challenging match-ups on the horizon, the one-time Supporters Shield winners will now need to answer the increasingly elusive task of how to finish.
LAFC play FC Dallas, Wed., June 23, 7:30PM, at Home
Houston play Portland, Wed., June 23, 5:30PM, at Home
Photos by: LAFC