Los Angeles Football Club Lead Western Conference
March 28, 2019
Last year, LAFC enjoyed success in their inaugural season at Banc of California Stadium. During the regular MLS season they won nine of 17 home matches and lost only once. Yet the seven draws at home, many due to failing to protect the lead, was a precursor to their unexpected 3-2 opening loss to Real Salt Lake in the playoffs.
That has all changed in 2019 through four games. The success is still there with LAFC winning all three home games and leading the Western Conference with 10 points. Draws at home have suddenly vanished. LAFC has only given up one goal in the first half of each win while fighting back to take or protect the lead in the second half.
It didn’t take long for the Black and Gold to get revenge over Real with a dramatic goal in stoppage time by defender Walker Zimmerman. LAFC’s 2-1 win gave the sold-out crowd of 22,023 another last-minute winner in the young season. Forward Adama Diomande put away a thriller in similar fashion over Sporting Kansas City in the home opener.
LAFC’s game winner came from their backfield near the end of the three-minute stoppage time. Zimmerman’s 24-yard hammer into the right corner of the net was set up by substitute defender Niko Hamalainen, assisting in his MLS game ever. The 22-year old Florida native is on a six-month loan from Queens Park Rangers.
“I was kind of playing too safe but I saw a big gap in between the center mid and the right back,” said Hamalainen. “And just to drive into that space, commit a couple of players and then slide it off to Walker. And then great finish.”
“When the game goes late we also had some ideas on subs,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “And Niko, just by the way he runs inside with the ball and slips the pass to Walker does a very good job to help us set up the winning goal.”
LAFC dominated in practically every offensive category yet were trailing 1-0 in the 35th minute when Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach converted a penalty kick past goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Sebastian Saucedo drew the unimpressive penalty just inside the box against LAFC midfielder Latif Blessing.
Bradley: “It’s not a good goal to give up. Not the penalty part. That’s a little bit unlucky. I think Latif almost tried to go behind him… in the first half I thought that our way of pushing up and being on top of them when the ball turned over, I think we were a couple of yards off for much of the half. So we go down and that makes the game harder.”
LAFC forward Diego Rossi scored the equalizer in the 40th minute, splitting two defenders to punch in a deflected pass off RSL midfielder Donny Toia and past goalkeeper Nick Rimando. It was Rossi’s second goal of the season. He also scored the first LAFC goal of the season.
The Black and Gold play their next two games on the road: this Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes before traveling to the Nation’s Capitol to take on D.C. United on Saturday, April 6. LAFC rallied twice in their only road game this season, resulting in a 2-2 draw last week with New York City FC.
The Earthquakes have lost all three games this season and are tied for last in the Western Conference with Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the only remaining MLS teams with zero points. Midfielder Magnus Eriksson and forward Cristian Espinoza are the only players to score for San Jose this season. Eriksson also has an assist along with midfielder Anibal Godoy.
D.C. United is a different animal. They are tied for first in the Eastern Conference with Columbus Crew SC and upstart FC Cincinnati, all with seven points. D.C. United has yet to allow a goal this season and have a formidable offense led by their leading scorer, all-time noted forward Wayne Rooney, who has three goals.