LAFC wins home opener

 

GEORGE LAASE

LAFC's Giorgio Chiellini, #14 on the right, scores the first goal of the season against Portland last Saturday.

The 2023 season home opener began with a ring ceremony honoring Los Angeles Football Club team players and 2022 Major League Soccer Cup Champions before a spirited sold-out crowd led by The 3252 Supporters Section at the newly named BMO Stadium last Saturday afternoon. The Black & Gold responded with a dominating 60-minute, 3-0 lead but just held on for a 3-2 win over the visiting Portland Timbers, who scored two late goals to make it interesting. LAFC improved both their all-time season opening and home opening records to a perfect 6-0-0.

But LAFC's busy schedule this year also includes the start of international competition this Thursday, March 9. The club flies to Costa Rica to take on Alajuelense in the first leg, Round of 16 of the 2023 Concacaf Champions League tournament. They immediately return to BMO (Banc of Montreal) Stadium this Sunday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. to host the New England Revolution, who clean-sheeted the Houston Dynamo 3-0 also last Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts to open their season.


The successful start to the season had an Italian flavor to it as defender Giorgio Chiellini, who helped Juventus win nine consecutive Serie A titles in Italy from 2011-20, gave LAFC a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute on a jab from close range past Timbers goalkeeper David Bingham. "Giorgio is pretty amazing and for me the best player on the field tonight. He's a step ahead of everybody else and that goes a long way," said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo after the match.

"He does an amazing job of keeping his body in a physical condition and not only able to keep up, but also dominate. It's fun to watch and a privilege to coach." Chiellini is now the oldest player to score his first goal in Major League Soccer at 38 years and 202 days old. His signing along with the acquisition of star forward Gareth Bale from Wales in the middle of last season was instrumental in the Black & Gold's stellar run to the title.


"It was a new thing for me. The ring, I was waiting for it," said Chiellini. "It was very nice and will remain in my memories for all time. It was an important trophy we won last year for everyone, for different reasons, but for everyone was very important to win the league, lift the trophy and celebrate.

"Now we have a few days of rest in order to prepare as best as possible for the Champions League game. It was a great goal for us a big goal we know how difficult it is to play in Costa Rica."


Team captain Carlos Vela scored on a penalty kick to give LAFC a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute, giving him three goals in the last four season openers. Now in his sixth season with the club, Vela is the all-time leading scorer with 70 goals in 119 matches. He is also the all-time assist leader with 47 and has converted 18 of 22 penalty kicks since joining the club.

Cherundolo noted Vela's health. "First and foremost, his physical condition this year is better than it was at the start of last year. We can expect much of the same prolific Carlos. He is somebody who's football IQ is off the charts and his left foot as well. He's somebody who will continue scoring and setting up goals at the same rate."


The match seemed like a forgone conclusion after Mahala Opoku nailed a nice left-footed shot with an assist from Vela in the 52nd minute for a 3-0 LAFC lead. It was Opoku's 10th goal for LAFC, having registered eight regular season goals, one MLS Cup Playoffs goal last year and one in 2020 against Cruz Azul during the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Champions League.

"The feeling was really great," said Opoku. "Having my first trophy as a professional player. I want to get more. The ring is so beautiful and so shiny. So, when you see it you say to yourself like if I do well do more I'll get more so it's really like the anger that you want to get more," said Opoku.

Responding to playing in the Champions League in 2020 and this week Opoku had this to say. "That was the first time I scored my first goal for the club. And it was really amazing. And for me, my goal is to get out a trophy if we can. We got to work harder towards it and to take one game at a time."


L.D. Alajuelense is hosting LAFC at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in the City of Alajuela, located in the Costa Rican Central Valley. The club is currently in first place with an 8-2-1 record in the Primera Division of Costa Rica. "It's an opportunity and it's an

honor to play in the Champions League. It's one that we earned and one we would love to repeat year after year," said Cherundolo.

GEORGE LAASE

The Los Angeles Football Club raised the Championship banner last Saturday at the BMO Stadium next to the USC campus.

"In order to do that, you need to maintain the level of play in both competitions," said Cherundolo. "We will try to rotate at the right moments to give players breaks. However, because of the way the rules and regulations are in our league, the one sort of question mark or moment where we kind of roll the dice is, we have to stay healthy. We are laser focused, first on this game and now our heads are moving towards the Champions League first leg."


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