Colorado Rapids Host LA Football Club

Riding a first-half wave as Major League Soccer's leader in the Supporters Shield race for league's best record, Los Angeles Football Club is ready to resume its 2019 MLS campaign on the road. The Western Conference last-place Colorado Rapids host LAFC this Friday night, June 28, at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, several miles north of Denver.

LAFC reinforced its winning hand this past Monday exercising its contract option on 22-year old midfielder, Latif Blessing, through the 2020 season. Blessing was acquired during the 2017 MLS Expansion Draft. In 46 regular season matches with LAFC, he has scored seven goals and 11 assists. His relentless energy, speed and style have made him a favorite at Banc of California Stadium.

The team also earned league accolades this past week as forward Diego Rossi and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye were selected to the 2019 MLS All-Star Game. Both were chosen by All-Star and Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor. The MLS 26-member All-Star squad entertains Spanish champion Atletico Madrid at Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida, Wednesday, July 31.

Rossi and Kaye will join Carlos Vela and Walker Zimmerman, both having been voted starters to the 2019 MLS All-Star lineup. Zimmerman, Rossi and Kaye will appear in their first All-Star Game ever. Vela will make his second consecutive appearance in the League showcase, both in his two years with the league.

Despite the disparity on paper between LAFC and Colorado, Friday won't be a cakewalk for the Black and Gold. In its last seven matches, the Rapids have four wins, two draws and only one defeat. However, their one inexplicable loss came at home in U.S. Open Cup to New Mexico United. The United Soccer League club advanced on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

During their 2018 inaugural season LAFC shutout Colorado twice. Midfielder Lee Nguyen and left winger Diego Rossi each scored in a 2-0 victory at the Banc of California on August 19. Two months later center forward Adama "Dio" Diomande scored twice and Zimmerman once in the 3-0 win at Colorado. LAFC will also host the Rapids in their last game the 2019 regular season, October 6 at the Banc.

LAFC made it through the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals last Friday night, beating off the improved San Jose Earthquakes at the Banc in Exposition Park, 3-1. After a listless start and trailing 1-0 in the 7th minute on a goal by Quake midfielder Vako, LAFC woke up. Rossi punched a goal from inside the six-yard box on a sweet pass by Nguyen in the 35th minute.

"They go one-on-one, they try to make the game very physical and they want to run," said Rossi. "It was a very physical game but we tried to play our football and when we do it well, we get out of the pressure they give."

LAFC captain Vela: "In the end, we want to involve everybody. We're a team and we need the whole squad to be the best team in this league. I'm happy to have my team and win games like this."

Dio gave LAFC the go-ahead in the 60th minute with an assist from Rossi. MLS-leading scorer Vela nailed the insurance goal in the 85th minute from right wingback Tristan Blackmon's assist. Making a big statement on defense was LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega. He made four goal-denying saves while securing another four on-target attempts.

Sisniega: "I'm really happy with today's game. It was my first game in front of these fans. It was an incredible experience. These games are a little different. They're a little more open and a little more intense. I'm happy with the result and the work the team put in."

"I've known Pablo from Spain. I know how good he is," said Vela. "It's not a surprise for me. I'm really happy to see a teammate doing a good job. It's always important for us."

LAFC will continue to field a lineup against Colorado without four starters. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, forward Christian Ramirez, center back Walker Zimmerman are still out due to Gold Cup duties. Right wingback Steven Beitashour is still recovering from a hamstring pull. Dio, Blackmon, Sisniega and center back Danilo Silva have been very effective replacements while gaining further confidence.

"We've tried to put the best team that we can on the field. The schedule worked in our favor," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley: "This weird June schedule where we had a league match in the beginning and then the one with Colorado coming up. So as it turned out, these two matches helped us keep going in June."

LAFC, leading the Supporters Shield with 37 points, has won six of its last six games including the last two during Open Cup. Crosstown rival L.A. Galaxy and Philadelphia Union trail by two lengths, tied for second with 31 points each. LAFC should expect some physical tactics from the Rapids. Colorado can score but need to disrupt the league's most productive and dynamic offense to keep matters close.

"There's one thing that I think is so important... these guys still enjoy the kind of football we try to play. So when they show up in training every day, training's fun," said Bradley.

"I think that's a big part of trying to make sure we continue to keep getting better. Yes, we work on a lot of different things as we go through a training week. But still, this package of being sharper in every way, that never stops. So I think that helps us."

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