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Unlikely Three Points: Houston Dynamo 1, LAFC 3

Adama Diomande leads a lineup full of reserves to victory.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In Los Angeles Football Club’s fourth match in nine days, at least eight normal starters were rested Friday night against the Houston Dynamo. Surprisingly, LAFC was able to pull out of Houston with a 3-1 victory off the back of two precisely placed goals from Adama Diomande.

Familiar faces that started included Mark-Anthony Kaye at right midfield, Steven Beitashour at right back, and Tyler Miller in goal. Reserve names of note in the starting lineup included Peter-Lee Vassell at center midfield, Joshua Perez and Rodolfo Zelaya on the attacking wings, and Triston Blackmon and Dejan Jakovic holding down the center of the defense.

Carlos Vela and Eddie Segura were both rested and did not start for the first time all season.

LAFC quickly lost possession after the opening kickoff, and the loose ball eventually fell to the feet of Houston’s Alberth Elis. Elis turned upfield, into LAFC’s box with just Miller to beat and raised a shot near post that clanked off the crossbar just eighteen seconds in.

Two minutes later, Romell Quioto took the ball into the left side of the box. He faked inside and cut back outside, shaking the defending Beitashour to the ground, then ripped a shot that was immediately deflected off the leg of Jakovic, who tried to back up Beitashour, and flew over the shoulder of Miller into the net.

During the next eight minutes, both teams trading crunching fouls near midfield. In the 12th minute, Elis passed to Tomas Martinez outside to the right. Elis immediately sprinted ahead, beating Kaye into the box. Martinez returned the favor with a through ball ahead of Elis, but Jakovic sprinted over and saved another goal-scoring opportunity by delivering a hard, sliding challenge on the ball before Elis could take a shot.

Again, in the 22nd minute, Elis received a through ball into the right side of the box. The pass was more ahead of him than he would have liked, which allowed Miller the ability to come out of the net to cut off the angle. Elis was first to the ball and one-timed a shot, but Miller blocked the ball out for Houston’s second corner.

The ensuing cross was deflected out for another corner, but Houston could not cash in this time, heading a shot out for a goal kick.

Halfway through the first half, Los Angeles controlled 59 percent of possession, but Houston had played more efficiently by creating six shots to LAFC’s four.

In the 25th minute, Elis got yet another through ball passed the back line. This time, however, it was a long ball from midfield. With Elis chasing down the bouncing ball, Miller again came off his line, but had to try to make a play on the ball without his hands since the ball was still outside of the box. As Miller attempted to clear it with a diving header, Elis raised his leg to touch the ball over Miller. Elis had an empty net in front of him, but before he could track it down, Mohamed El-Munir made an amazing play to keep LAFC within one goal, sprinting back and sliding in time to deflect the ball out for Houston’s fourth corner.

El-Munir and Elis both went sliding into the net as the ball just cleared the crossbar.

Two minutes later, Elis got another lobbed through ball to practically the same spot as his most recent chance. This time, Miller feigned charging the ball, which made Elis try chipping a shot over him. Because he was farther back than Elis anticipated, Miller was able to get a paw on the ball and knock it aside.

But finally, LAFC found their first real goal-scoring opportunity.

In the 30th minute, Kaye intercepted a clearing pass from Houston’s back line. Kaye settled it with a touch, then immediately sent Perez on a run into the left side of the box. Houston right back Adam Lundkvist seemed to run over Perez from behind, but no foul was called.

During the next dead ball, the referee jogged to the sideline for a VAR check. Again, no penalty was given. It seems the consensus was that Perez had already lost balance on his own and was on his way down before Lundkvist made contact.

In the 41st minute, Kaye lofted a ball across the field towards Vassell in the middle above the 18-yard line. Vassell one-timed a through ball towards Diomande, who took one touch ahead into the box, but it was too heavy of one and Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis had time to run out and dive on the ball before Diomande could do anything with it.

LAFC kept the pressure on, and in the second minute of added time, Diomande put home the equalizer. Lee Nguyen had space on the right side of the field just outside the box and lofted a curling cross towards the far post where Diomande skied to head a shot on goal. His shot flew over the head of Willis, who came over to the post nearest to Diomande, and dipped under the crossbar before settling inside the right side of the net.

By halftime, Houston still held a 9-7 shot advantage and split total possession with LAFC, but Los Angeles had won the last twenty minutes of the half. For the Black-and-Gold’s effort to pay off at the last minute, LAFC went into the locker room with the momentum, something that seemed like an impossible task after the first thirty minutes.

Nevertheless, with a first half that was mostly unsuccessful for LAFC, head coach Bob Bradley subbed on Latif Blessing to replace Vassell at halftime. Blessing took over the right midfield position, which moved Kaye into the center. The move seemed to immediately pay off.

Just four minutes into the half, Kaye cleared the ball from his own half to Blessing. Blessing took the ball forward and sent Perez ahead past midfield. Perez beat his man one-on-one into the right side of the box and sent a ball across the box. Diomande touched it back to the trailing Nguyen, who faked a shot and instead laid it off back to Diomande just outside the six-yard line, and Diomande buried the go-ahead goal with a low shot near post.

This was Diomande’s second consecutive game with a goal but his first multi-goal game of the year, bringing his season total in league play to six (eight in all competitions).

In the 51st minute, however, Houston came back with a scoring opportunity that almost matched Diomande’s success. Elis again made a run down the right side and Kaye smartly took him down before his run developed into a shot. Houston took the free kick quickly before LAFC could set up its defense with a touch to Martinez who was unmarked. Martinez ripped a curling shot towards the far post around the outstretched Miller, but the ball hit the post and bounced safely away towards the sideline.

Zelaya was replaced by Diego Rossi in the 55th minute for LAFC’s second sub.

The following fifteen minutes continued to be a back and forth affair but without any dangerous scoring opportunities.

In the 70th minute, Jakovic slid towards a loose ball late and caught Elis with the studs of his cleats. Jakovic was shown the game’s first yellow card.

Houston was unable to convert and LAFC came back with a dangerous opportunity in the 79th minute.

Rossi beat his man down the left sideline and then cut back inside. He feigned a pass to the cutting Diomande, which caused Houston’s defense to collapse towards Diomande’s run. This opened up the far side of the field and Rossi finally sent the through ball ahead of Perez who had just the keeper to beat. Perez took a touch before hitting the ball on net, but this gave Willis time to come out of his net, and the shot was blocked away by his body.

Houston then came back with a threatening push of their own in the 83rd minute. A lofted cross found Elis inside the penalty spot and he rose over LAFC’s defender to redirect a shot down, inside the right post, but Miller was able to dive down in time to gather the ball on the goal line.

During Los Angeles’ counter-attack off Miller’s save, Diomande was fouled by Maynor Figueroa near midfield and was shown Houston’s first yellow.

After missing out on yet another clear scoring opportunity, LAFC charged down the field in the 88th minute. Kaye cleared out of his own half with a long grounded pass to Diomande who had plenty of space at midfield. He carried the ball ahead before being pressured by a defender, then sent the ball ahead towards Perez who had a defender also trailing him.

Perez was instantly met with a second defender, so he let the ball go across the top of the box to Rossi who only had one defender on him. Rossi faked inside and went outside, down the left side of the box before chipping a shot over Willis to cement an unlikely road win.

Eddie Segura came on as LAFC’s final sub to replace Perez.

With a lineup made up of mostly reserves and Houston dominating most of the first half, for LAFC to come away with three points is huge, especially after a grueling 1-0 defeat against Portland two nights ago. The luck of Houston failing to capitalize on numerous goal-scoring opportunities kept Los Angeles in the game. After LAFC equalized in at the end of the first half, Houston continued to miss their chances and eventually, Los Angeles found its rhythm.

In reality, Houston should have had a four or five goal lead before LAFC found its second goal. The couple of the Dynamo failing to add to its lead and Bradley’s first two precise substitutions allowed LAFC to take control of a highly competitive game and come away with the unlikeliest three points.

LAFC are back in action next Friday, against the...LA Galaxy! Big game, and they’ll get a proper week of rest before the showdown.

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