Diego Rossi of LAFC celebrates one of his three goals against the Houston Dynamo in the 2018 US Open Cup Semifinals. The match finished in a 3-3 draw and the Dynamo prevailed 7-6 on penalty kicks. Photo: Houston Dynamo
Los Angeles FC forward Diego Rossi has been voted TheCup.us Player of the Round for the Semifinals of the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Rossi’s hat trick wasn’t just another superb performance by the young Uruguyuan but it was historic despite the fact that Houston edged out the Black and Gold on penalty kicks 7-6 after a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes.
It was two-man race for the award as Philadelphia’s Cory Burke had a brace in the Union’s 3-0 semifinal win against the Chicago Fire and finished second. Burke’s teammate, and the man who assisted on both of his goals, Alejandro Bedoya, finished a distant third.
Rossi, in a season of firsts for the MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC, tied David Ochoa (Miami United FC) for the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup scoring lead with his three-goal performance.
Rossi signed in December has been as clutch for LAFC as clutch can be. In March, he scored the team’s first-ever goal in their first win against the Seattle Sounders. Since that first goal, he has climbed the ladder on the MLS stat sheets adding six more goals and six assists. Add in five more goals and an assist in US Open Cup play and the 20-year-old has 12 goals and seven assists in 25 games.
The former Penarol forward began his Player of the Round performance with what has become his trademark, sprinting into space to receive a ball from a teammate this time it was Lee Nguyen. He slotted it past Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis in the sixth minute to give LAFC the opening goal of the game. It would be their only lead of the night.
“I’m always trying to help the team by finding space,” Rossi told MLSsoccer.com in their Rising Star series. “Being smart on the ball and continuing to be mobile.”
Late in the game, with LAFC trailing 3-1, Rossi showed the Houston Dynamo why he was labeled by the MLS piece as “A defender’s worst nightmare.”
In the 78th minute, Jordan Harvey raced towards the endline before delivering a service into the box. The ball deflected off Houston’s Andrew Wenger and then off the head of Adolfo Machado before landing at the feet of Rossi. The former Uruguyuan Under-20 champion settled and deftly placed a left-footed boot inside the far post.
Now within a goal, Rossi and company were not to be denied. The second-highest scoring team in Major League Soccer received a free kick just outside the Dynamo box late in second half stoppage time. Willis, charging off his line, deflected the Aaron Kovar delivery on one bounce to an unmarked Diego Rossi. With a flick of his head, Rossi not only tied the match but settled into the record books as the first Uruguayan to score a hat trick in the Modern Era (1995-present) after the Quarterfinals. He also became the first Uruguayan to score a hat trick in the Modern Era and the first to win the Player of the Round award.
After a scoreless 30 minutes of extra time, the match went into penalty kicks where the Dynamo prevailed, 7-6. Rossi converted his penalty kick attempt in Round 7, only to see Latif Blessing’s attempt saved in the next round which would prove to be the difference.
Rossi is the only player to win a “Round” award and not advance (NOTE: Chris Eylander of the Seattle Sounders won TheCup.us Player of the Tournament award despite being eliminated in the Semifinals).
“Diego has been great. He’s young, energetic. When he gets near the goal, he’s pretty clinical,” teammate Steven Beitashour said following a Rossi brace in mid-March. “There’s a reason we brought him here.”
And now, despite LAFC being eliminated in the Semifinals, the rest of the soccer world understands that reason too following Rossi’s historic performance.