Players from LAFC celebrate a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes in a Round of 16 match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: LAFC
A 3-1 win for the team that the table, in concurrence with the eyeball test, says is the best in the United States may seem like a ho-hum result, and completely devoid of The Magic of the Cup. That wasn’t the case in Los Angeles, though, with the hometown LAFC ultimately prevailing over the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-1, but in a much more exciting game than may have been expected.
After falling behind early, LAFC scored three unanswered goals by Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande and Carlos Vela to send the club into the Quarterfinals for the second year in a row. For the second year in a row, they will host the Portland Timbers on July 10 at Banc of California Stadium. Last year, LAFC won 3-2.
The visitors got the scoring started early. US youth international Jackson Yueill controlled a ball deep in his own end, and launched a through-ball up the right sideline, where right winger Carlos Espinoza found himself in behind the defense all alone. Inside the top of the LAFC penalty area, Espinoza squared the ball to Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, and the Georgian made no mistake finishing past keeper Pablo Sisniega.
San Jose looked to have doubled their lead in the 20th, when an early cross landed directly on the forehead of MLS all-time leading scorer Chris Wondolowski. Wondolowski did what he does best – finish – but had been in an offside position at the time of the pass, keeping the San Jose lead at just one goal.
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That lead would shrink to zero before the first half was completed. LAFC midfielder Lee Nguyen found space in the left channel of the Earthquakes’ defense, and cut inside at the top of the box before slipping a through ball to winger Diego Rossi. A clever chip from a short angle allowed him to level the proceedings with his sixth career US Open Cup goal. Last year, Rossi finished second in the tournament in scoring with five goals and despite losing in the Semifinals, was still a finalist for TheCup.us Player of the Tournament.
From there, a battle of contrasting styles settled in. LAFC put its efforts toward trying to out-possess the opponent and build beautifully, while San Jose was content to answer with counter-attacks.
It would be the former that broke the deadlock – with a little help from transition play, too. A loose ball in LAFC’s defensive third quickly found its way upfield to Rossi in the 60th minute. The Uruguayan slipped a through ball to striker Adama Dioumande, who then rounded the keeper before slamming the ball home. It was a lead LAFC wouldn’t relinquish, even though Espinoza had a chance on the break. His shot was saved by LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega, and the Quakes would not threaten again.
For Sisniega, it was part of a solid performance, filling in for regular starter Tyler Miller who is away on international duty with the U.S. National Team. The Mexican netminder made eight saves, including several exceptional stops which was recognized after the game.
“[Sisniega made] excellent saves, three or four excellent saves and I think everybody on the team is so excited for him,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “He’s come in, yes, he’s missed some time, he’s excited for this opportunity, Tyler [Miller] has done a good job setting an example and also supporting Pablo [Sisniega].”
Mexican international Carlos Vela put the final touches on LAFC’s victory in the 85th minute, cutting in from the right wing, dribbling past two defenders, and wrong-footing San Jose keeper Andrew Tarbell to provide the final margin. It was Vela’s second goal of the tournament and the third of his career.
“Last year we said the [Open] Cup was important. The way the draw went, we didn’t play MLS teams in the first two rounds,” said Bradley. “[This year] having to go to Salt Lake for the first game, we immediately discussed amongst ourselves that you earn the Cup every round and there are teams that sometimes rotate and maybe if they get far enough in the tournament they start to take it more seriously. We’ve tried to put the best team that we can on the field.”
That approach has paid off as LAFC remains undefeated (5-0-1, 0-1 PKs) in their first two years in US Open Cup play. Their lone blemish on their record is a penalty kick shootout loss to eventual champion Houston Dynamo in last year’s Semifinal (match officially listed as a draw). The schedule worked
“I think the credit goes to the players, the key guys, the leaders,” said Bradley about his team’s adjustment to the challenge of balancing a league and a cup schedule. “There’s one thing that I think is so important in this and it’s that I think these guys still enjoy the kind of football we try to play, so when they show up in training every day, training’s fun. Yeah, it’s hard, some days they get pushed, some days at the end there are guys laying on the field because they’re tired, but nonetheless, the kind of football they play, some of the goals they score in training, that part of it I think they really enjoy. I think that’s a big part of trying to make sure we continue to keep getting better.”