UPDATE: Portland Timbers file protest claiming LAFC fielded too many international players
Carlos Vela scored his first goal since the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia to continue the run of Los Angeles FC in their inaugural Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Vela, playing in a traditional No. 10 role, controlled the center of the field for LAFC in a 3-2 Quarterfinal round victory on Wednesday night over Portland Timbers at Banc of California Stadium.
“I’m really happy to help my teammates. I think this team can dream high and I’m happy to be here,” Vela said.
Major League Soccer’s newest expansion team has won its first three tournament games and advances to the Open Cup Semifinals, scheduled for next month.
“We’re more close to winning a title so we’re working hard to be there in the final, so I think we have to work hard to keep this level and be a better team,” Vela said.
It was the second meeting between the two MLS teams in four days, as they played to a scoreless draw on Sunday, June 15 before combining for three goals in the first half on Wednesday night.
“Tonight was a much faster-paced game,” LAFC manager Bob Bradley said. “The differences between playing at night and playing in the afternoon, and we were a little lucky to be on the good side (but) we need as many games like this as possible.”
Los Angeles FC dominated possession in the first half, but back-to-back saves from goalkeeper Tyler Miller gave the team confidence.
“Making a double save at an important time in the game, and Tyler has played really well lately,” Bradley said. “I thought we had a good start to the game, but we got caught in transition so that situation turned into a great chance and he had to make a second save.”
LAFC sent wave after wave of attacking players into the Timbers defensive third before breaking through in the 31st minute when Vela sent a cross into the danger zone in front of goal.
The ball glanced off the head of Timbers midfielder David Guzman and beyond the reach of goalkeeper Jeff Antinella to give LAFC a 1-0 lead.
“We had less possession, fewer passes but we were still dangerous,” Bradley said. “We thought giving Carlos a little freedom would make sense, which I thought tonight was great.”
Vela was in the middle of LAFC’s attack throughout the night, and gave the home team a 2-0 lead eight minutes later after finding the ball in Portland’s penalty area and slotting a shot low and hard past Antinella.
“This game was a better game for the fans, and today there was more spaces to get the ball, to receive, to make good chances,” Vela said. “I feel better playing (in the slot) because I link more with my teammates, and I think it’s my best position to create chances.”
The 17,898 fans in attendance — a Quarterfinal record for the Modern Era — were certainly treated to an entertaining game.
Portland found its way onto the scoreboard in first-half stoppage time when David Guzman lofted a free kick onto the head of Julio Cascante for an easy finish past Miller and get the Timbers a goal right before halftime.
More goals came early in the second half as Marco Urena got on the end of a rebound and blasted it past Antinella for a 3-1 lead in the 51st minute. It was Urena’s first goal at Banc of California Stadium.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time but I’m really happy right now,” Urena said. “It’s an important moment for me and I feel the support of the guys.”
Timbers defender Vytautas Andriuskevicius got one back a little more than a minute later, bombing down the left side before shooting past Miller to put immediate pressure back upon LAFC.
The home team handled any further trouble and saw out the game with a series of tactical substitutions, with Benny Feilhaber coming in for Lee Nguyen and Adama Diomande replacing Urena before the 70th minute.
Diomande had a late goal disallowed by a questionable offside call as LAFC pressed for some insurance.
“Dio was onside. You know that, right?” Bradley said. “He scored that.”