It’s been a scorching summer for LAFC, but they’re not the ones bringing the heat. On Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes visited BMO Stadium, and the two California teams faced off for the third and final regular season match, playing to a 1-1 draw.
In their second match of the week, and with 14 matches remaining in the MLS season, the pressure to create results ahead of the playoffs is mounting, not just for LAFC, but for all their opponents. Accordingly, teams are starting to trend towards what has become a race to finish in a safe place for a successful postseason run.
“We bring the best out of every team. And that’s okay. We earned that right last season,” head coach Steve Cherundolo expectantly declared. San Jose brought their best and followed through by scoring first, forcing LAFC to chase the match, as has been the case for their last three matches as well.
The last time LAFC won a match was when they were able to reach the back of the net first, back on June 21 against Seattle Sounders.
“It’s always something different. You’d prefer to start the same back 4 every week. To find some continuity and understand each other’s movements and habits,” Cherundolo explained. “Sometimes it’s an individual mistake, sometimes it’s a tactical error. Sometimes it’s a little unlucky. Sometimes it’s a collective failure. It’s always something and those somethings need to go away fast,” he concluded.
San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza was able to outrun and outmaneuver defender Mamadou Fall in his return debut, burying a shot in the 30th minute, marking his third goal against the Black and Gold in three matches. LAFC’s own MVP candidate, Dénis Bouanga responded with his 12th goal, as he converting a penalty kick in the 37th minute after being tripped by defender Rodrigues in the box.
The second half brought what should have been a gifted opportunity for LAFC, when the Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel was issued a red card for a handball violation as he attempted to cut off a Mateusz Bogusz breakaway. The resulting 10-player lineup left the visitors with a 3-man backline, yet in spite of LAFC’s efforts to break through, replacement goalkeeper Marcinkowski stopped all three shots, including a save to deny Carlos Vela a game winner in the 82nd minute.
The draw extends LAFC’s winless streak to four just days before they face arguably the most competitive expansion team in MLS history, St. Louis City, who are leading the Western Conference with a five-point margin over the third-placed former MLS Cup champions.
Cherundolo wasn’t short on compliments for the newcomers. “They have a clear identity and way of playing and they don’t budge. And don’t move an inch left or right. They stay within their means,” he explained. “A hard-working team. A disciplined team. And they find ways to disrupt other teams’ play and to catch on the counter and they’re good on set pieces.”
Since their CONCACAF Champions League campaign ended, a simple rule of form has been eluding them. In order to play effectively against competitive teams who are just as eager to make their mark in history, LAFC need to consistently perform for the full 90 minutes.
The lack of a consistent striker, the lack of a consistent backline, the lack of consistency in team dynamics and individual efforts has all led to a loss of their identity. All the elements that make their next opponent so formidable, are what LAFC need to remember they too once had.