LAFC Needs Two Wins to Qualify for MLS Playoffs

Arango's Scoring, Vela's Return Offers Hope

It's nervous time. Tuesday night's 7:30 p.m. contest against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Banc of California Stadium will be LAFC's most important match of the season... again, for about the last two months now. Led by forward Chicho Arango the Club has clawed its way back into the 2021 MLS Playoff picture. Last Tuesday night's spirited 3-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders improved their chances of qualifying with two matches remaining in the regular season.

Of course, the Black and Gold are going to need help given that they have been struggling the entire season to just make the seven-team Playoff cut line. Currently in ninth place in the Western Conference with 44 points, LAFC needs to contend with 8th place Real Salt Lake (45), No. 7 L.A. Galaxy (46), No. 6 Vancouver (47), No. 5 Minnesota United (48), and perhaps No. 5 Portland Timbers (49). Head coach Bob Bradley's side needs to win both of its last matches to reach 49 total points.

Aside from playing the Whitecaps on Tuesday, LAFC visits Colorado this Sunday, November 7. The Rapids are currently in a three-way-tie for first with Sporting Kansas City and Seattle, with 58 points each. Salt Lake hosts Portland on Wednesday, and travels to Kansas City on Sunday, the League's final day of the regular season. With both opponents battling for positions, that reduces RSL's odds of getting six points for two wins. A win and a tie would give them only four points for 48 total, one behind LAFC's wishful 50 Playoff target.

The L.A. Galaxy have two difficult matches, this Monday night playing at Seattle, and Sunday hosting Minnesota at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. A win and a tie would give the Galaxy 50 points and a likely tie with LAFC. A loss would place the Galaxy in a precarious position as 49 total points might not be enough to qualify for the postseason.

Vancouver's road is equally as difficult with the match against LAFC before hosting Seattle on Sunday. A loss to LAFC and a win over the Sounders would also give the Whitecaps 50 points total. A draw or loss to Seattle would leave them out of the running. Minnesota has only that one match with the Galaxy remaining, meaning a draw in that game would be to LAFC's benefit. Portland only needs a draw or one point in its last two matches to reach 50. After playing at Salt Lake on Wednesday, the Timbers should be able to take care of Austin FC on Sunday.

"It was a great match where we all pushed and gave it all, 100 percent. We're happy with the result and hopefully we're able to get into the playoffs," said Arango, who completely sealed the game against Seattle with a goal early in the second half. He has now scored 13 goals in 15 matches since coming to LAFC in August "The last two games, Vancouver and Colorado, we are going to give it our all... we have the opportunity to play at home where we are strong and hopefully get a good result."

Beginning with a 1-1 draw against the Galaxy on October 2, LAFC's form from two seasons ago (when they set the MLS standard for most points while winning the Supporters' Shield) is starting to show signs of life. They have since won three of the last four matches and should have secured a win in the 1-1 tie at Minnesota last week. The draw could very well loom large after last Sunday's matches have concluded.

Bradley was pleased with his squad's effort in the Seattle win: "Team played with great intensify, first half, especially, in terms of collective moment, closing things down. Really reacting to loose balls, being on top of things, playing quickly... A few hiccups in the second half a little bit on set piece defending. But all in all, it's a great win."

Those at the Banc also witnessed the much anticipated return of team captain Carlos Vela, who was out of action since August 21, a 2-1 loss to the Whitecaps where he left with a hamstring injury in the 15th minute. Vela substituted for Brian Rodriquez in the 78th minute. Rodriguez scored the first goal for LAFC in the 21st minute, a quick deft ground shot that slipped between the legs of Seattle goalkeeper Stephen Frei into the back of the net.

"It's a good thing for us. We definitely wanted him back on the pitch with us and we know his qualities and skills, and that's a benefit for us," said Rodriguez about Vela's return to the pitch as the team looks ahead to the final two critical contests.

"Vancouver is going to be definitely an interesting match. It's going to be hard but being at home with our supporters and our fans is going to help us. Colorado is also going to be a tough match, but we have to take it one match at a time and take it day-by-day."

Frei's counterpart, LAFC goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, earned Player of the Match honors with several athletic saves that nullified Seattle's always potent attack. A tie would have left LAFC dead in the water as far Playoff chances were concerned. Blackman blocked four shots while withstanding 14 total shots with an active defensive back line. Not coincidentally, the team has a 3-1-2 record since Blackman was named starter six games ago.

Bradley added: "When we needed it in the second half, Jamal made a couple of big saves. So that was really important for us as well. We've got to take this... and get ready for a really important game next Tuesday against Vancouver."

Without a doubt, Los Angeles Football Club is still recovering from last season's impaired schedule along with a rash of injuries, protocol restrictions and transfers that have forced multiple roster and lineup changes. They managed to salvage last year with a brilliant run during last December's CONCACAF Champions League Tournament. Tigres UANL of Liga MX scored two late goals to edge out LAFC, 2-1, in the Championship Final. Qualifying for the Playoffs this season would also do wonders.


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