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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

LAFC Wins Opener - Battle Portland This Sunday

Vela's Hat Trick Dominates Rapids


Vela! Vela! Vela! Los Angeles Football Club extended their opening game unbeaten streak to five as a healthy Carlos Vela returned to form and scored a hat trick to shutout the visiting Colorado Rapids, 3-0, to begin the 2022 Major League Soccer season . The win marked Steve Cherundolo’s debut as LAFC’s head coach.

“I’m very pleased with the result. It’s important after preseason to start the season off with a win,” said Cherundolo. “This one goes to the players, staff, fans, front office, everyone from A-Z at this club. This is one of hopefully many and just the beginning of our journey.”

Vela has been the heart and soul of LAFC since its 2018 inaugural season. He put the club on a fast-track to become an instant force in their first two seasons. In 2019, Vela’s 34 goals set the league record for goals scored in a season. Coincidentally, he also scored three goals against the Rapids in the regular season final. However, LAFC suffered the last two seasons when Vela wasn't on the pitch due to injuries.

“For us there is a notable difference when Vela is on the team,” said 31-year old veteran midfielder Ilie Sanchez, signed as a free-agent in January after spending the past five seasons with Sporting Kansas City. “When you work defensively and get possession, you create chances, but the difference with this team is that you have someone like Carlos Vela to score goals.”

Vela scored his three goals in a 21-minute span. His first came on a penalty kick in the 29th minute to put LAFC on the scoreboard. His second got the fans excited led by The 3252 Supporters, on a fast break pass from midfielder Jose Cifuentes, ahead of two defenders before deftly putting the ball into the back of the net past Rapids goalkeeper William Yarbrough in the 35th minute for a 2-0 halftime lead. Vela’s third goal, five minutes into the second half brought the house down with one of his classic left-footed shots from the right side inside the far post for the final score of the match.

“In first half, we didn’t finish all that well. We came out a little cold and we made errors in marking on the field,” said Cifuentes, assisting on two of Vela's goals to begin his third season with LAFC. “In the second half, we were able to be calmer, which is what helped Carlos’ goal and helped define the game. That gave us confidence and calmness to play our game.”

Vela and midfielder Latif Blessing are the only remaining players from the club’s first season. After four memorable years under head coach Bob Bradley, Cherundolo was hired to help bring an MLS Cup to LAFC. He’s expected to bring a more robust defensive attitude and approach while maintaining a lethal offense the team established with Bradley. His job was made easier with the acquisition of goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

“We consider Maxime to be one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. Like us, we know he is committed to winning, and his leadership and experience will contribute to our success on the field,” said LAFC’s co-president and general manager John Thorrington when they acquired him for $1 million in General Allocation Money (GAM).

Crepeau wasted little time in substantiating Thorrington’s words with a clean sheet while also earning a yellow card for physically defending his teammates during a skirmish in the 58th minute. “First, the three points that’s the most important thing. On top of that, we kept the zero. So, that’s good and a positive note to initiate the season at home,” said Crepeau.

“The first half was tight, and we kept it clean and the second half they were pushing a little bit more and seemed a little bit more spread out. But these are things we can work on through the next few days leading to Portland.”

LAFC’s next opponent, the Portland Timbers will be visiting the Banc this Sunday, March 6, 7:00 p.m. The Timbers, who lost the 2021 MLS Cup in penalty shootout to New York City FC last December, had to rally to tie New England Revolution, 2-2, in their home-opener last Saturday. Midfielder Yimmi Chara scored the equalizer in the 78th minute. Last season, the Revolution broke LAFC’s record for most points in a season by winning the Supporters’ Shield with 73 points.

Portland’s most noted departure in the off-season was the club transferring midfielder Diego Valeri to Argentina’s Club Atletico Lanus in January. Valeri spent the past nine seasons with the Timbers. El Maestro scored 86 total goals and 91 assists in 262 matches with Portland, and will become a Timbers ambassador as soon as he retires from his boyhood club, Atletico Lanus, within the next few years.

Los Angeles Football Club has now registered four shutouts in their five opening season matches. They clean-sheeted the Seattle Sounders, 1-0, in their inaugural 2018 match on the road at Lumen Field. Sporting KC was their next victim in 2019, 2-1, the only goal they’ve given up on Opening Day. LAFC took out Inter Miami, 1-0, in 2020 on Vela’s only other goal in an opener. FC Austin also suffered, 2-0, in 2021 at Banc of California Stadium. Saturday’s victory against Colorado, last season’s Western Conference leader, is a promising first step for LAFC as Cherundolo takes the helm.

Crepeau on his new team, “We have a good squad, we have quality, we have depth. In the meantime, it’s just one game out of 34. You have to keep focusing on what’s in front. Enjoy today a little bit and be happy about that performance but at the end of the day there’s another 33 (matches). And you know in this league you have to put in good effort and there’s not one easy game.”

Cherundolo was pleased with Vela’s contribution but reiterated Crepeau’s sentiments. “I think we all know what he can do and he showed it again today. He worked very hard in pre-season to get to where he is today. I think that’s key for this group moving forward. It’s more than the starting eleven with this group, we need to look beyond that. The guys did a great job stepping in today and I’m sure they enjoyed the post games celebrations.”


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