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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

LAFC Moves Into First Place

Blanks Inter Miami - Hosts Whitecaps This Sunday at The Banc


March 17, 2022


Mahala Opok gives LAFC 1-0 lead before halftime at Miami

The good news for LAFC is that they are tied for first place in the Western Conference three matches into the 2022 MLS season. The better news is that first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo appreciates the results but knows the team needs to be better after they clean-sheeted Inter Miami, 2-0, in a sloppy game exacerbated by the very muggy and windy conditions at DRV PNK Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

"First away game of the season. It's always important to come away with three points. We achieved that. We didn't concede any goals. So, we achieved that as well. That was pretty much the only good thing about today's performance," said Cherundolo, after Los Angeles Football Club improved their record to 2-0-1. This ties the club's best start after three matches since they joined MLS in 2018.

LAFC returns to Banc of California Stadium this Sunday, March 20 to host the Vancouver Whitecaps starting at 7:00 p.m. before having a bye next weekend. The Whitecaps are on the opposite end and bottom of the Conference standings with only one draw in three matches. They opened the season with a disappointing 4-0 loss at Columbus Crew, played to a scoreless tie with New York City FC at home, before losing 2-1 at Houston last Saturday.

Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini scored the club's only goal of the season so far in the 14th minute against the Dynamo, and their only lead of the early season. Last season, Vancouver had the upper hand on LAFC in the three matches between the two teams. They tied 2-2 at The Banc in July, beat LAFC 2-1 at Vancouver before playing a role in eliminating the Black and Gold from the Playoffs late in the season with a 1-1 tie again at The Banc.

The obvious link between the clubs is LAFC's goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who was acquired from Vancouver in January for $1 million in GAM (General Allocation Money), the first-round pick in the 2025 MLS SuperDraft, and conditional GAM. LAFC General Manager John Thorrington: "We consider Maxime to be one 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. Two shutout in his first three matches with LAFC reinforced Thorrington's statement at the time of the trade.

The windy, almost gale-like conditions contributed to the uncertainty in Miami. LAFC's passing was off, as was their controlling the game with and without the ball. "It affected the game more than we thought it would have. There were winds going in all directions... swirling winds which makes it very difficult to predict. Touches from both teams were kind of wild," said Cherundolo.

Forwards Carlos Vela, Brian Rodriguez, and Mahalo Opoku started the match for LAFC. It was Opoku who gave them a 1-0 lead in the 45th minute inside the box with a left-foot blast into the far post. It was his first MLS goal in his 11th career match. He had scored a game-winning goal for LAFC against Liga MX's Cruz Azul in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals. Opoku: "I feel great, my first MLS goal. I feel happy about that and I hope I score more... The game was not that open and it was kind of hard for us. The little chance we had we had to make use for it."

For the second consecutive game, LAFC played the second half a man up due to a red card to the opposition. Soon after Opoku's goal, Miami defender Brek Shea was sent off in the second minute stoppage time. Despite the one-player advantage, LAFC struggled to get shots on goal. They finally broke through when forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, making his LAFC debut, scored the insurance goal in the 82nd minute on a free kick inside the far post past Miami goalkeeper Clement Diop.

"It was perfect the position for the left foot," said Tajouri-Shradi. "With the weather conditions around the last 20 minutes, it was perfect to put it right in there. If someone touches it, it's going in. If nobody will touch it, it will go in anyway. So, I think it was a perfect ball and it just went in. I'm happy about the three points and the goal."

A positive note is that other players are starting to score goals aside from Vela, who had a hat-trick in the season opener. "The depth is key for us. Staying healthy but also drawing on players for a fresh start. Moon (Moon-Hwan Kim) stepped in and had a good game. And then bringing in Ismael Tajouri-Shradi late is a game changer for us. He changed the manner of the game not just with his goal but was bringing the ball, was dangerous in spots."

When they do get goals it adds confidence and it sends a message to everybody else as well, our opponents, it's not just Carlos going but other players as well."


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