After setting the record for most points earned in a franchise’s first season, Los Angeles Football Club started their 2019 season with fireworks, as second-half substitute Adama Diomande buried the game-winning goal in the last minute of added time to beat Sporting Kansas City on Sunday night, 2-1.
LAFC found a way to overcome the team that served as last season’s kryptonite, after SKC was the first team to beat LAFC at Banc of California Stadium and beat LAFC on Decision Day, cementing their first seed finish.
After putting out a starting lineup full of faces returning from 2018, head coach Bob Bradley’s three offensive switches proved to be worthwhile, as late substitute and rookie Peter-Lee Vassell’s initial long pass from the midfield towards the attack was what created the final chance for Diomande. The pass deflected from one end of SKC’s box to the other, where it fell to the feet of Diomande, who made one quick move back to the middle, and slotted home the shot top shelf.
Banc of California Stadium was buzzing all night, but the play of the game felt like it had been building up to bigger moments.
The game’s first spark of action came when Miller securely saved a shot from Graham Zusi from outside the box with a dive in the fourth minute. Miller also stifled another SKC attack in the ninth minute when Kristian Nemeth took a shot from just six feet out.
Sporting Kansas City took advantage of a bit of luck in the 16th minute when an attempt to clear the ball by LAFC was blocked by the referee. The loose ball was eventually controlled by SKC before LAFC’s fast-breaking players could recover. Four passes later, Nemeth found the back of the net.
In the 21st minute, a Carlos Vela shot from inside the box deflected off an SKC player’s thigh then hand, and initially, no call was made. Referee Robert Sibiga then stopped play in the 22nd minute and a VAR-review ensued. Sibiga announced the no-penalty conclusion shortly after.
LAFC’s first real test of SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia came in the 35th minute when Mark-Anthony Kaye’s shot from the middle of the box was stuffed by Melia. LAFC followed that push up in the 41st minute when Vela took three quick dribbles inside from the right wing and curled in a low left-footed shot from the top of the box straight at Melia.
SKC took a 1-0 lead with them to the locker room at halftime, but Diego Rossi answered just three minutes into the second half.
After a searching, lofted Eduard Atuesta pass from midfield, Rossi took his one-on-one matchup on the left corner of the box, dribbled inside past Graham Zusi, and finished the shot in the bottom right corner.
The next time LAFC had an attacking opportunity in the 51st minute, Rossi drew a foul from Graham Zusi worth SKC’s franchise record-tying sixth yellow card. LAFC would end with three yellow cards of their own (Harvey, Blessing, Atuesta).
LAFC kept up the new energy found at the beginning of the second half when new left back Eddie Segura tested Melia with a header off a corner in the 57th minute. Melia stopped it, albeit unconvincingly, before SKC’s defense cleared the line.
Bradley decided to pile on the pressure by adding a fresh attacker as forward Christian Ramirez exited his 2019 debut in the 59th minute for 2018 returner Adama Diomande. Ramirez had a rather quiet night, not being involved with many scoring opportunities.
In the 67th minute, tensions flared. After Miller dangerously punched a shot from Nemeth back towards the middle of the box that was eventually cleared, Kaye walked up to an ailing Andreu Fontas, shoved him, and was then pushed away by Roger Espinoza and Eddie Segura.
Rossi earned another corner in the 71st minute, and Bradley used his second substitution on midfielder Lee Nguyen and replaced him with another 2018 returner, Latif Blessing. Nguyen left the game having done well to control the middle third and relieve SKC’s offensive pressure.
Much of the next ten minutes were filled by each team jockeying for possession more than chances to score, though LAFC seemed keen on finding a counter-attack opportunity.
And it finally came in the 83rd minute as Blessing found himself with the ball a little past midfield, turned, and dribbled down to the top of SKC’s box and ripped a shot that was deflected out for a corner.
Just a minute later, Roger Espinoza was issued his second yellow card of the match after clipping Kaye from behind, causing Kaye to rise from the ground, upset, and with a face full of white paint from the field that stuck to him the rest of the night.
Once Espinoza was excused from the pitch, Bradley chose to give his goalscorer a rest and brought on LAFC’s first pick in the 2019 SuperDraft, Jamaican prospect Peter-Lee Vassell to make his MLS debut in place of Diego Rossi.
From the energy to the tactical adjustments made by Bradley’s staff, LAFC put in quite an impressive and assuring performance Sunday night. Though LAFC starts its follow-up campaign on a positive note, they will quickly need to refocus for next week’s home matchup against the defending champion Portland Timbers.
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