LAFC were not especially comfortable, they inexplicably substituted Carlos Vela out of the game just 20 minutes in, but they did just enough to get the job done in their 2021 MLS regular season opener on Saturday, defeating Austin FC 2-0 at Banc of California Stadium.
Newcomer Corey Baird scored his first goal for the club, in the 2nd half to win it, as LAFC played decently but certainly not their best.
LAFC’s first lineup of the season had no surprises except one, with Diego Rossi a scratch on the day and both Baird and Danny Musovski starting as a result, alongside Vela. New defender Kim Moon-hwan was also not available as he recovers from a knee injury.
LAFC were sharp right off the bat, with a good buildup leading to a Diego Palacios shot in the first 30 seconds, forcing a save from Austin GK Brad Stuver. Off the corner kick, Tristan Blackmon had a half-volley attempt, but it sailed over the goal.
In the 21st minute, Vela stretched to get a diagonal ball and just missed it, seeming to tweak his quad in the process. After being attended to by the training staff, Vela was ready to get back on the field and before he could, LAFC replaced him with Mahala Opoku. The TV broadcast showed Vela asking what was happening and why he was subbed out, and it appeared Bob Bradley apologized to him for a miscommunication, something the coach admitted a couple minutes later in the in-game coach’s interview on the broadcast. Vela was so upset he initially went straight into the locker room out of frustration, but came back out to watch the game on the bench.
Vela se resintió en la última jugada, parecía que quería regresar al campo, pero Bob Bradley prefirió hacer el cambio pic.twitter.com/L8ht7yNL9W— Katia Castorena (@KatiaCastorena) April 17, 2021
It was fairly anticlimactic for the rest of the 1st half, with the teams battling back and forth but neither side really getting a great chance. Mark-Anthony Kaye had an attempt that was too high, and Opoku forced a save just before halftime, while Austin had some counterattacks but didn’t really test Pablo Sisniega too hard.
In the 2nd half, LAFC piled on the pressure in the opening minutes, with a series of corner kicks, with Segura nearly scoring in the 53rd minute, his header at the near post tagging the corner of the crossbar.
They finally found the breakthrough in the 61st minute, as LAFC’s buildup led to a back-to-goal pass from Musovski, with Corey Baird running onto the pass and hitting the one-timer that took a deflection off an Austin defender that left Stuver wrong-footed.
Eduard Atuesta almost scored a few minutes later on a free kick, his attempt from distance forcing a stop from Stuver.
In the 75th minute, Kaye and Baird left the game for Jose Cifuentes and Raheem Edwards, making his MLS debut.
A couple minutes later Musovski almost had the insurance goal, as Cifuentes and Edwards connected to spring a counter, but Musovski got clobbered by Besler at the last second to send the forward’s attempt wide of goal.
Musovski carried on for a few minutes, but was injured and Francisco Ginella replaced him in the 81st minute. Atuesta got hurt a few minutes later, and since LAFC had made all of their regular subs and Atuesta didn’t have a head injury, he carried on with LAFC unable to replace him.
In the 91st minute, LAFC iced the game, Opoku winning the ball in midfield and pushing upfield. He squared the ball to Cifuentes, who scored the tap-in to make it 2-0 and secure the win.
So it was a very weird game, LAFC’s sub of Vela really putting them at a disadvantage, but credit to the team for grinding and getting the win. I think Austin was decent, not stellar and not terrible, but LAFC did what they needed to in order to win. That’s what they have to do, nearly every time out.
LAFC will hopefully have Vela and Rossi back next week, and will likely need them, as they’ll host the Seattle Sounders next Saturday. Seattle won their season opener 4-0, so they’re going to be tough, as per usual. Should be a big one.
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