by Kelly Landaverde @Kel_landaverde
Los Angeles Football Club are looking to take advantage of the historic opportunity they have to clench a spot in the MLS semifinals in their inaugural season. Playing at home, the loyal LAFC fans and the great vibe at the Banc of California Stadium may give the Black & Gold “The Hope” they need to continue their positive journey.
LAFC has faced RSL twice this year and were victorious on both occasions. First they routed Salt Lake 5-1 at Rio Tinto in March. Next in August winning 2-0 at home with goals from Christian Ramirez. Will Ramirez, who only scored against RSL, strike score again? LAFC is a swifter and a more tactical team, but at times can be deficient in the middle.
LAFC emphatically began their quest with only one defeat in their first seven regular season games, a loss to Eastern Conference powerhouse Atlanta United. Overall, LAFC won 16 games, lost 9 and drew 9. On the other hand, Salt Lake won 14 games, lost 13 and drew 7. By the end of the regular season, LAFC finished third with 57 points, and Real Salt Lake sixth with 49 points. With Carlos Vela leading in scoring with 14 goals and 13 assists, Diego Rossi, and Adama Diomande each have 12 goals under their belt. As for RSL, Damir Kreilach has notched 12 goals, Albert Rusnák 10, Joao Plata and Corey Baird 8, Jefferson Savarino 7, and Luis Silva has 5.
One thing Real Salt Lake have in their favor is a loss the LAFC was dealt when Laurent Ciman departed at the end of August and joined the French Ligue. He was vital to the defense both times LAFC played and beat Salt Lake this year.
LAFC is back home after a trip to Dorothy’s beloved city of Kansas for their final regular season match. Bob Bradley’s team had a great chance to finish second place in the Western Conference and could have skipped a dreaded knockout round, but fell short. Meanwhile RSL did in fact sweat it on Decision Day, after falling 3-0 against Portland. But the Dynamo gave them the “helping hand” they needed by defeating rivals LA Galaxy 3-2 knocking them out and for fans of El Tráfico, ending the chances of a rivalry match. In spite of the loss to SKC, Carlos Vela did do during this season what the Dos Santos brothers couldn’t do for LA Galaxy. Vela is a finalist for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award and the MLS Newcomer of the Year award, while head coach Bob Bradley is a finalist for the MLS Head Coach of the Year.
This Thursday LAFC could secure a win in their first playoff game and be one of eight teams to advance in the playoffs. Tired legs could play a role, with a chance the game goes a full 120 minutes. This is an all or nothing one time opportunity.
Mark Geiger a former New Jersey math teacher, and the polemical US referee who made atrocious calls in the World Cup this year in the Colombia vs England game and during the Gold Cup in 2015 in Mexico vs Panama, will whistle this match. Will the tension rise knowing he is the referee? Will he not show any bias? He has favored teams in the past. Has Bob Bradley set a great example of how to run an expansion team? One thing is for sure, no matter what the outcome, LAFC’s first season has set the bar higher for expansion teams in the future.
Projected Lineup for LAFC
GK: Tyler Miller — Steven Beitashour, Danilo Silva, Walker Zimmerman, Jordan Harvey — Benny Feilhaber, Eduard Atuesta, Lee Nguyen — Carlos Vela, Adama Diomande, Diego Rossi
Mark-Anthony Kaye is out with an ankle injury
Projected Lineup for RSL
GK: Nick Rimando — Brooks Lennon, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera — Kyle Beckerman, Sunny — Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata — Damir Kreilach
Assistant Referees: Frank Anderson, Logan Brown
Fourth Official: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Kevin Stott