Culver City Observer -

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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

LAFC hopes to win in the Conference Finals

 

October 27, 2022

GEORGE LAASE

LAFC's Jose Cifuentes, in the middle, tries to control the ball against the Galaxy.

Sunday at the Banc of California Stadium at high noon the Los Angeles Football Club will host the Western Conference Finals for the second time in its short five-year history. LAFC, the winner of the 2022 Supporters' Shield, will take on upstart Austin FC, competing in only its second season of Major League Soccer. The winner will play the winner of the Eastern Conference finalist, the Philadelphia Union or the New York City FC, for the MLS Cup title on Saturday, November 5.

LAFC beat the L.A. Galaxy, 3-2, at Banc of California Stadium last Thursday night, an ultra-dramatic match that became an instant classic in the "El Trafico" derby. Forward Cristian Chicho Arango scored the game winner in the 93rd minute, the first postseason stoppage time winner in LAFC history. Forward Denis Bouanga converted the first two goals for the Black & Gold followed by the Galaxy equalizer each time respectively by Samuel Grandsir and Dejan Joveljic.

"It took our best to beat them," said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. "Our performance and our aggression and ideas in the second half gave us an edge along with our fans, and that was the difference tonight." The 3252, LAFC's support group that set the league standard from its inaugural season, was in full force for the entire match and were instrumental during the stoppage time goal off of a set corner piece.

Bouanga commented during the post-match conference: "I'm feeling pretty good and confident, with two goals that came in a good moment. This is a late winner... we are a team that's able to grind teams down until the last whistle, until the last play... and it's a good evening for us." Bouanga opened the scoring with blast under Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond off of a sweet assist by LAFC team captain Carlos Vela in the 23rd minute.

Bouanga, who was acquired from Saint-Etienne of French Liga 2 in early August, continued to pay dividends for LAFC and appeared to have secured the game with his second goal during the 80th minute. But four minutes later, Joveljic tied the match at 2-2, further ramping up the intensity in what has evolved into the league's greatest rivalry. The win still left LAFC two wins behind the Galaxy for the best record in the derby with five wins, five draws, compared to the Galaxy's seven wins in 17 total matches.

LAFC will try to improve their all-time MLS Cup Playoffs record to 3-3-0 against Austin FC on Sunday. They shutout Austin twice by a score of 2-0 in the Texas' clubs first MLS season last year. However, Austin turned the tables on LAFC this year by beating them in both regular season matches: 2-1 at the Banc in mid May before dismantling the Black & Gold in Austin, 4-1, in late August.

Defender Ruben Gabrielsen and forward Diego Fagundez scored for Austin in the first match with Fagundez scoring again in the second match along with a goal from forward Sebastian Driussi and two goals from forward Max Urruti. Druissi's 22 goals finished second in the league scoring this season to Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar. Urruti has nine goals this season followed by Fagundez with six. LAFC led the Western Conference in scoring this season with 66 total goals, with Austin FC trailing by a single goal at 65.

GEORGE LAASE

LAFC's Denis Bouanga scores one of his two goals against the LA Galaxy last Sunday at the Banc of California Stadium

Arango leads LAFC with 16 goals this season followed by 12 for Carlos Vela, the club's all-time leading scorer with 69 total goals in 118 matches played. Midfielder Jose Cifuentes and Kwadwo Opoku each scored seven goals while defender Ryan Hollingshead has six goals this season. Vela leads the team with nine total assists, followed by Cifuentes with six, while Arango, midfielder Kellyn Acosta and defender Diego Palacios each have four assists.

Both of LAFC's playoff wins have come against the Galaxy. The first was a 5-3 victory in 2019, when the club won the Supporters' Shield in only its second season. Sunday's win against the Galaxy only further promotes the heated exchange in the inter-city rivalry. Acosta was impressed: "Where do I start? I mean, the game was electric. It had a bit of everything. A bunch of goals, back and forth game. Got to highlight our fanbase, the 3252, they were electric the whole game. Our heartbeat. Our energy... and they were our driving force for us getting that third goal. And then prevailing to get the win."

 

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