LAFC Ends Regular Season With a Tie
Prepare for Playoff Match with Seattle
November 12, 2020
The way LAFC's 2020 MLS season was trending, it was almost expected that the visiting Portland Timbers would equalize the score late during their last match of the regular reason on a cold Sunday afternoon at Banc of California Stadium last weekend. With the 1-1 tie, LAFC finished seventh in the Western Conference and will be on the road for the entire MLS Cup Playoffs. Beginning in two weeks, the club will face the defending champion Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field.
"We are going to work like crazy for two weeks and go to Seattle and give our best effort to move on," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley following the match last Sunday. "We've got a couple weeks to continue training. We've thought about this for a few weeks, and so it's just the situation that I guess is part of a crazy year."
A couple of items that should not worry LAFC: They'll be facing a rival they're very familiar with and have a 5-3-1 all-time record against Seattle. LAFC won the first two matches 1-0 in their 2018 inaugural season, including their very first MLS match ever. There's also the revenge factor. The Sounders ousted the Black and Gold, 3-1, in the 2019 MLS Cup Conference Finals last October at the Banc.
In 2020, the clubs have split four games. LAFC won 4-1 in the MLS is Back Tournament, then lost the next two matches at Seattle, 3-1 and 3-0, when league resumed play, before beating them 3-1 when they met on October 11 at the Banc when forward Danny Muscovski scored two goals against the Sounders to clinch the victory. One thing is certain, aside from the rest of the playoff clubs, both are not relishing this Round One matchup between two of the more talented rosters in the league.
LAFC forward Diego Rossi is part of that talent as he won this season's MLS Golden Boot Award for scoring the most season goals with 14. Following teammate Carlos Vela's 2019 Golden Boot Award, it marked the first time in league history that the award was won by in consecutive seasons by players from the same team.
"As a forward, you always want to score and you always want to help the team in that way," said Rossi in accepting the award. "And yes, you have to work hard for that, improve yourself, and be ready when you have a chance to put it in. Yeah, this is a trophy also for the team, because without my teammates, this is impossible to make."
With Vela out for a greater portion of the matches, Rossi picked up the slack and never looked back. He scored 14 goals in 19 league games, including five goals scored during the first three matches of the MLS is Back Tournament. He scored four goals in a 6-0 rout of the L.A. Galaxy during the tourney on July 18. The 22-year old from Uruguay has scored a total of 42 goals in 85 matches since joining LAFC as a rookie in 2018.
Vela started off the season with a goal in each of the first two games before suffering an MCL injury during the MLS is Back Tournament in late August. He scored twice in the four matches since his return in late October, including LAFC's lone goal against the Timbers. Vela gave the LAFC faithful a lot of hope about his physical health as he played a complete match on Sunday for the first time since March 8 against the Philadelphia Union.
LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips finished second in team scoring this season with eight goals, followed by Muscovski with five. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye finished fifth in team scoring with three goals, one behind Vela's four. Forward Brian Rodriguez led the team with seven assists, Wright-Phillips finished with six, while midfielder Francisco Ginella, Kaye, Blessing and Rossi each had four assists.
Goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega had a 7-5-2 record starting 14 league games for LAFC this season, including two shutouts. He had 35 total saves but gave up 23 goals. Veteran Kenneth Vermeer had a 2-3-3 record in the nets for LAFC, including one shutout. He save 19 goals but yielded 16. Both are going to have to improve their play if LAFC is going to advance in the Playoffs, as they were tied for seventh worst in goals allowed in MLS. However, in a positive light, both goalkeepers combined to allow only 11 total goals in the last 10 matches of the season.
"I think that we have to continue working hard and I know this one was not a result that we want," said Rossi last Sunday. "But we have to learn about this and we have to continue. This is part of football, and now we have to learn for the Playoffs. That is more important at least from there."
LAFC will likely field its strongest starting lineup against Seattle in a few weeks. The club obviously suffered the greatest decline in results this season due to the pandemic, injuries, multiple line-up changes and the very compact schedule imposed upon all the MLS clubs when they resumed league play in late August. Yet, the Black and Gold also led the league in scoring for the second consecutive year. They finished with 47 total goals in 22 matches, one goal ahead of Portland at 46 and three ahead of Seattle and Philadelphia at 44.
Bradley said, "I believe we are capable of winning MLS Cup, but again, you go a game at a time, and so we know that we start in Seattle. Always a tough game. From the start we've had really good games with them, but we know that last year, they came here and knocked us out of the playoffs in the conference finals. So we've got to see if we can settle that score and go there and be at our best."