Under a blazing hot Texas sun, LAFC lost the first of two straight matches against Houston Dynamo, with goals from Nelson Quiñónes, Amine Bassi, Corey Baird, and Franco Escobar, as the Black and Gold’s once surefire offense melted into oblivion. Tonight’s 4-0 loss marks the worst defeat for the 2022 MLS Cup and Supporters Shield winners, and second worst in club history. “We didn’t have the energy to try to come back in this game,” Giorgio Chiellini, who’d just played his first minutes in league play since April, explained. “I hope this can be a good lesson for us.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the winning Dynamo secured their first shutout in seven matches and improved their already impressive home record (all 6 of their wins). The silver lining is that LAFC have a shot at redemption when the two sides face each other next Wednesday at BMO Stadium.
Houston took an early 1-0 lead in when Quiñónes scored his first career goal in the 11th minute, then increased its lead to 2-0 on a penalty kick by Amine Bassi just five minutes into the second half. Baird, a late sub for Houston, took a pass from Aliyu Ibrahim in the 69th minute and scored the home team’s third blow. Finally, Escobar, who played for LAFC last year, poetically scored his first goal for the Dynamo and completed the scoring frenzy in the 89th minute. John McCarthy, who’d won the CONCACAF Champions League Golden Glove award just 6 days ago for ensuring 4 clean sheets and conceding just 6 goals in 8 matches of the tournament, registered merely one save at Shell Energy Stadium.
The CONCACAF Champions League Final was a turning point in the story of LAFC. They’ve scored one goal in their last four matches. A year that began confidently with five tournaments to fervently compete in, has been tarnished by the reality that two unsuccessful tournament runs are over, their place at the top of the league is no longer a guarantee as teams like FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC and St. Louis City surge, the return of their former No. 9 “Chicho” Arango to a conference opponent, and the impending arrival of Messi to Inter Miami like an MLS messiah. Although it is merely Matchday 14 in a long season, the future of LAFC is not clear.
Afterwards, Ilie Sánchez addressed the proverbial elephant in the room. “It was a very bad performance from all of us. I’m not trying to seem dramatic. When we don’t follow our principles, when we all have different ideas, this is what happens,” he emphasized. “I don’t think it’s about individuals. Obviously, the mistakes come from individual choices. But, we are not thinking as a team.” Chiellini, was more positive, reiterating the lengthy season has plenty of room for bouts of low performance. “The most important part of the season will start in September. Now, we have to work together, to try to take the most points as possible from now until the middle of July (when Nations League starts).”
LAFC return to their home field to prepare to host Houston on Wednesday. The question remains, will they have the mental fortitude and prowess to rally together and turn their stagnant spell around?