Los Angeles Football Club learned a hard lesson on Thursday: The MLS Cup Playoffs are fickle.
Several players after the match said some variation of “I didn’t think we would lose this game,” and a monster night led by RSL forward Damir Kreilach left LAFC in denial after the playoffs ended in a mere 90 minutes.
While Kreilach scored his first goal of the night to put RSL ahead in the first half, LAFC fought back and scored the next two goals, including a go-ahead strike from halftime substitute Christian Ramirez.
But a golazo from Kreilach to tie it up again and another deflected RSL goal left LAFC holding the bag and lamenting yet another game where they could not hold onto a lead this season.
“The thing that’s hurt us more than anything, it’s not that all of a sudden the game changes, it’s that at 2-1, our ability get control and really finish the game, that’s certainly been a number one thing that’s haunted us all year,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said after the game.
“Some nights, three shots, three goals...That’s part of football sometimes. It’s awfully hard to figure out.”
Star forward Carlos Vela seemed stunned by the result afterwards.
“Of course it’s difficult to be out of the playoffs. The way we lost is difficult to accept because we feel like we controlled the game, we created chances, we feel we were the better team, but in the end football is like that. If you don’t score goals and you are not tough enough in the back, you can’t win.
“We have to learn a lot...I hope we can be a good club, a winning club, so we have to try to learn, we have to work.”
The other story of the game was the trouble from the crowd, as spectators on both ends of the field threw debris onto the field, including directly at RSL players, especially goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and the homophobic goal kick chant that had been essentially eradicated after the first home game at The Banc came back with a vengeance, especially in the second half.
The incidents in the stands left a black eye on the game and the club, who had worked so hard this season to cultivate a passionate but respectful fan experience in the stadium, and Ramirez was asked about how it affected the game.
“That’s never the pretty side of the game,” he said. “I hope it’s the first and last time it happens. We love the passion that our fans bring and we never want to hold that back. We just don’t want to put guys in danger on the field, their goalie or their defenders, when on set pieces, throwing ice, throwing cups, you don’t want that side of the game to show.
“And I think when the first [LAFC] goal happened, the long stoppage, we were building such momentum that you don’t want the game to stop at that point. It’s just a learning experience for fans and from us to hopefully that balance can be found, because we know that’s not who they are. It’s the first playoff game. Tempers were maybe boiling a bit but hopefully that won’t happen again.”
With the team left simply to reflect on a quick playoff exit and the offseason now here, Bradley emphasized the work will continue to happen, even if Thursday’s loss will hurt.
“It’s not a one-year project, it’s a project to continue to have a way of playing and an identity and a philosophy that we believe in, that produces good football, that can win,” he said. “We’re all disappointed to see this season end, because we still felt that we were a team capable at the end of the year of going far in the playoffs and winning MLS Cup, so that hurts a lot.”
Bradley also looked at the positives of the season for the organization, in which a remarkable amount of progress happened, on and off the field.
“The vision of this club, in terms of what kind of football we wanted to play, the connection with our supporters, feeling that we could build something special, a stadium with our training facility, with the energy and diversity in the city — that part’s awesome. That doesn’t change one thing. This season we had enough moments of really good football that I think the vision of what we want to be can be achieved.”
And while the attacking style LAFC played this season came up short, it certainly doesn’t sound like Bradley will be abandoning that approach for a dour style in the future.
“We’re not Barcelona yet but we’re having a great time trying, and that part’s not changing as long as I’m around,” he said.
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