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Style and substance: Nashville SC 1, LAFC 2

Black-and-gold pass test in playoff-like atmosphere.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Nashville SC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE — LAFC went back atop the Supporters’ Shield race after their first trip all-time to Tennessee proved successful, defeating Nashville SC 2-1 on Sunday at Geodis Park in front of an announced crowd of more than 30,000.

Both Cristian Arango and Jose Cifuentes continued their scoring ways in the win for LAFC, although the night will likely be overshadowed by the big-name players who featured for the first time.

Giorgio Chiellini got his first minutes in MLS, and first start, for LAFC in this game, while the other big-name newcomer, Gareth Bale, began on the bench for the black-and-gold.

Chiellini’s first test was passed, as he kept up with Hany Mukhtar on a breakaway chance in the 12th minute, forcing a cross by Nashville’s MVP candidate that led to a header wide of the mark.

The teams managed just a single shot on target apiece through the first 25 minutes, but LAFC found a breakthrough in the 27th minute, as Arango finished a nice team move with a deft trickler against the grain to beat Joe Willis in Nashville’s goal.

The teams started to trade good chances from there, LAFC’s defense holding off Nashville’s attack before they nearly scored a second goal, only for Daniel Lovitz and Willis to team up to stop the ball from crossing the line.

The first real mistake of the game came as the 1st half wound down, with Ilie Sanchez grabbing CJ Sapong’s jersey on a Nashville corner kick. After VAR, the penalty was given and Mukhtar stepped up to convert the spot kick in the 43rd minute to tie up the game.

The teams went into the locker room at the break deadlocked at 1-1. There weren’t a ton of chances for either side, but LAFC were good value to be level, with the best open play chance and keeping Nashville from getting good shots on target inside the 18-yard box. Still, giving up a penalty before halftime was a bummer, and LAFC had work to do for the rest of the game.

LAFC got their second goal within the first minute of the 2nd half. After a failed cross attempt from Franco Escobar, he recycled a ball as he sent it to Carlos Vela, whose cross that was headed by Ryan Hollingshead clanged off the post, only for Cifuentes to clean up the rebound and slam it in to score his third goal in two games.

Nashville had a great look in the 56th minute, as it looked like LAFC had a free kick initially covered, but Dax McCarty’s shot was completely scuffed and it dribbled wide of the target.

LAFC’s first change came at the hour mark, with Eddie Segura replacing Chiellini, who had a terrific debut shift in MLS. Latif Blessing then entered in the 72nd minute for Sanchez, while Gareth Bale made his debut at the same time, replacing Arango.

With Bale on the field, he had a few little flicks in his first couple minutes on the field, as LAFC pushed for an insurance goal.

LAFC’s final two changes on the night were Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Sebastien Ibeagha, replacing Escobar and Kwadwo Opoku, respectively, in the 84th minute. While they pushed for another goal, they had to settle to shut up shop in the back and avoid a second equalizer on the night, which they did.

I think this was a very good performance for LAFC. Once again they got pegged back, but they played better in the 2nd half and the in-form players continued to show out. In addition, Chiellini was terrific and Bale, while playing fewer minutes with LAFC already ahead, showed glimpses of what he can do for this team. All in all, it was a team performance, but one fitting the league leaders, who now sit a point ahead of Austin FC, with LAFC also holding a game in hand.

LAFC are back in action on Saturday, when they’ll head to Kansas to take on Sporting Kansas City. Sporting are in the Western Conference basement, but don’t let that fool you — they can still make games very difficult for opponents, especially at their stadium. It should be another big game for Steve Cherundolo’s men.

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