Carlos Vela Delivers Winning Shot
LAFC Wins 2020 Home Opener at the Banc
March 5, 2020
Only Major League Soccer's reigning MVP needs to be mentioned after LAFC's 1-0, 2020 season-opening clean sheet victory over brand spanking new Inter Miami on Sunday afternoon. Carlos Vela delivered a winning chip shot, a deft touch that took the crowd's breath away, no less on his 31st birthday. Miami goalkeeper Luis Robles futile and outstretched arms signaled the Black and Gold fans, led by The 3252 supporters union, to erupt in the 44th minute at Banc of California Stadium.
"Really, the press conference, all you should be allowed to ask me about, and all you should be allowed to write about is the goal..." began LAFC head coach Bob Bradley.
"... because when you come to see football and the game is determined on a play like that, which was a combination of determination, the people around them, strength, and holding guys off. And still with an idea of how he could get away, the position of the goalkeeper, and to finish it off with that delicate chip-in, that was just incredible."
LAFC were not at their best but that was understandable given their instant-classic come-from-behind series victory over Liga MX power Club Leon three nights earlier, Thursday at the Banc. The necessary 3-0 victory propelled LAFC into the Quarterfinal Round of the 2020 Concacaf Champions League to take on Cruz Azul starting next week.
But it took a physical and emotional toll with 90 minutes of offensive pressure and defensive grinding, prompting Bradley to slightly adjust his starting eleven for the Miami opener. Defender Jordan Harvey and midfielder Francisco Ginella replaced defender Diego Palacios and midfielder Eduard Atuesta, respectively. Against Miami, Atuesta returned in the second half, substituting for Mark-Anthony Kaye in the 59th minute.
"Today we knew that it was going to be important to dig deep again, considering we just played a game on Thursday," said Kaye. "They had some quality players and some good plays throughout the game but we always just try to focus on ourselves.
"I think the coaching staff and the owners understood that we need more depth in the midfield going forward and they went and got some good players, so we know how important rotation is going to be this year." LAFC acquired two young South American midfielders in the off-season: 21-year old Francisco Ginella from Uruguay and 20-year old Jose Cifuentes from Ecuador. Cifuentes substituted for Ginella in the 76th minute versus Miami.
Another young midfielder, 19-year old Bryce Duke, also made his MLS debut, substituting for Latif Blessing who was taken down hard in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the match. LAFC signed Duke, from Casa Grande, Arizona, to a Homegrown Player contract after they acquired his Homegrown rights from Real Salt Lake in late January.
Another key acquisition in the off-season was signing international veteran goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer from the Netherlands. Vermeer replaced fan-favorite Tyler Miller, LAFC's starting goalkeeper in its first two seasons, and registered a shutout in his LAFC debut. That's two clean sheets in a row for Vermeer after blanking Club Leon in last Thursday's win. Miller was traded to Minnesota United FC in January in exchange for General and Targeted Allocation Money.
Vermeer received accolades from his new fellow teammates. "He's made some big saves and has been a good voice back there and a great communicator. Whenever people leave in the offseason, there's always a gap people can step into and our older guys have done a great job of that."
Kaye added: "A world-class goalie. I'm not surprised about anything that he's done in the games because I've seen him do it in training but it's a big plus having him back there, knowing that he's able to keep some clean sheets for us."
The 1-0 victory over owner David Beckham's Miami squad was the third MLS opening season win for LAFC in its short two-year and one match history. Beckham is part of a group of five owners and is also President of Soccer Operations for Inter Miami. Vela, who set the league record last season for goals scored with 34 and total goals and assists with 49, continued where he left off last season and even last Thursday when he scored two goals against Club Leon.
Bradley: "Carlos led the way and scored two important goals on Thursday. As we were discussing squad rotation, the discussion I had with him about how we felt was never really going to be in his mind that he was not starting today in our home opener so, that's just mentality that he brings and the example that he sets."
The Black and Gold have a fairly heavy schedule in the first month of the MLS season by having advanced to the quarterfinals in the Concacaf Champions League. Besides hosting Philadelphia Union at the Banc this Sunday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m., they have a home-and-away series with Cruz Azul. LAFC will host Cruz Azul next Thursday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. Both teams meet again six days later at Azteca Stadium on Wednesday, March 18, also starting at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday's match against Philadelphia has the potential to be a trap game for LAFC. The Union lost its opener last Saturday on the road, a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas. Philadelphia outshot Dallas 15-9 in a very balanced game on the field. Down 1-0 after 90 minutes, the Union gave Dallas an insurance goal in stoppage time to seal its fate.
Last season, Philadelphia finished 6th in the Eastern Conference, beat the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs before bowing out Atlanta United FC in the Conference Semifinals. LAFC beat the Union at the Banc, 4-1, in their first-ever matchup in 2018. Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead in the 3rd minute last season at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania before Vela nailed the equalizer in the 43rd minute and a 1-1 draw.