Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

LAFC Ready for Season Opener This Saturday

Club Hosts MLS Newcomer Austin FC at the Banc

 

April 15, 2021

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Carlos Vela scores a goal despite being pulled down from behind.

Los Angeles Football Club wrapped up its two-match preseason series with the New England Revolution last Saturday, rallying for a 3-3 draw as head coach Bob Bradley prepared his squad for this Saturday's 2021 home-opener versus Austin FC, Major League Soccer's latest franchise entry to be initiated at the Banc of California Stadium. Last year, LAFC welcomed Inter Miami into the MLS with a 1-0 shutout in the season opener at the Banc.

"The past two Saturdays I think the two teams have gone after each other in a real way and that certainly sets both teams up in a good way to start the season," said Bradley following the second preseason draw with the Revs. The first exhibition ended in a 2-2 draw as LAFC had to come from behind in both matches to salvage a tie.

"There still are a few too many moments where we are a little bit careless, a little bit treating plays without the necessary understanding of the situation and the moment and we've gotten ourselves into trouble in some of these situations and that is a really important thing to make sure everybody is on board with as we start next week versus Austin."

Austin FC is the latest MLS franchise to join the other 26 teams that make up the league. They will be on the road for its first seven matches this season as the club prepares to officially open Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas on June 19. LAFC will host ATXFC at 3:00 p.m., Saturday afternoon before a partially filled Banc of California Stadium. The stadium attendance was at capacity for only the first two matches last season before the COVID pandemic disrupted the regular season.

"Coming here, we're going to play like it's a world cup final. They're going to try their best because it's a new MLS team and they want to win. We're ready to receive them at our home," said Latif Blessing, LAFC's most versatile and energetic player.

"To be honest, it's going to be a little complicated," said defender Eddie Segura. "Being a new team, they have got the new attitude of playing their first game. They don't have anything to lose and we just have to play our game. Everything will play out if we just stick to our game and keep preparing for whatever is yet to come. We'd love to get a great result on Saturday for us and that's what we should expect."

Kaye: "We haven't had a game with fans in so long and our fans are a big part of who we are at LAFC. So, to get that back in at small percentage is still a very positive thing as we work to try and get the stadium full again. Obviously, it's not going to be the same atmosphere. But we know the people who are going to be in there are going to do everything possible to help push the team forward."

As LAFC begins its fourth MLS campaign, Bradley's likely season opening lineup preview had slight changes in the two preseason matches, with midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye back in the starting eleven in place of Jose Cifuentes. Veteran goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer also got the nod over Pablo Sisniega, who started in last week's exhibition. Both shared duties with mixed results in the net last season.

Bradley: "These two guys (Sisniega and Vermeer) obviously are pretty even. Each one has their own strengths so those are things we consider as we make decisions. And then I think the real answer will come as we get into the regular season."

There are seven original LAFC players remaining on the roster from the Inaugural 2018 season: Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Jordan Harvey, and Tristan Blackmon. With the exception of Vela and Harvey, it could be the final season in Black and Gold for the other five as their interest from international clubs continues to grow.

LAFC midfielder Kaye addressed the issue during the MLS is Back virtual media conference on Wednesday, April 14: "For me personally the goal is to always have Europe as an option. We've been here for four seasons now, three seasons under our belt. We knew that if we played good football we've got good opportunities. I think I can talk for the other players on the team that want to challenge themselves at the highest level of this sport."

"Obviously, we don't dwell too much on that. We just try to focus on what we can control here with LAFC because this is our team now. And this is what we want to give all our efforts to. But, we know that Europe is a possibility for a lot of players on our team. We just hope that it comes at the right time for both the player and the club."

The lethal combination of 2019 League MVP and Golden Boot Award winner Carlos Vela and 2020 MLS Golden Boot Award winner Diego Rossi will spearhead LAFC's offense for the fourth consecutive season. Vela set the MLS scoring record in 2019 with 34 goals while Rossi scored 14 goals in last year's shortened season. They are the only duo to have won consecutive scoring titles from the same club.

"I feel great," said Vela who suffered an MCL injury last August but returned by the end the 2020 season. "The more time you spend with players, you have more chemistry. You can play better. You can prepare a season in a better way. I feel right now our team is younger than other years. I hope we can do great things this year."

Segura: "Obviously the work they put into our team is very valuable. They bring a lot to us and I think it's very clear that we need to all work together and take advantage that we have such a great team with them included. We are a team with a very clear mindset of what we need to achieve."

The front-line duo have played both preseason games with 25-year old midfielder Corey Baird, acquired in the off-season from Real Salt Lake. LAFC has led the league in scoring the past two seasons and tied the league record of 85 total goals during the 2019 season.

"I think Corey is developing a good understanding with those players (Vela and Rossi). He's still a direct threat, has speed, he's a guy that when we lose the ball helps us press and win balls back. So, hopefully that understanding can continue to grow and he can be a good part of a dangerous front three."

Based on the two preseason games against New England, LAFC's opening game lineup will likely feature goalkeeper – Kenneth Vermeer and defenders - Tristan Blackmon, Eddie Segura, and Jesus Murillo. and Diego Palacios. Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye will occupy the midfield while forwards Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Corey Baird will operate upfront.

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Diego Rossi gets behind the New England defense for a shot .

LAFC acquired five players during the off-season to shore up its ranks: goalkeeper Tomas Romero, defenders Marco Farfan and Kim Moon-hwan, midfielder Raheem Edwards and forward Corey Baird. The team currently has 29 of a possible 30 players on its roster. All 30 players comprising an MLS roster are allowed to be selected to the 18-player game-day squad during the regular season.

 

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