A Strong Signal

Rested and renewed, LAFC overpowers another Leagues Cup opponent in 4-0 victory over Real Salt Lake 


The return of Chicho Arango to Los Angeles had been scheduled for an October 1 regular-season match, but when Real Salt Lake’s recent run of form continued into Leagues Cup, the RSL forward and the team he helped win the 2022 MLS Cup were reunited earlier than planned, with a Round of 16 knockout match at BMO Stadium on Tuesday night. 

By the time Arango was subbed off in the 80th minute, however, LAFC had netted three goals to RSL’s none, and the presence of the Colombian goal machine had become the secondary story. When LAFC added a fourth goal, it was clear that the evening’s big takeaway had nothing to do with a former player and more to do with a group whose high-pressure, high-scoring style of play seemed to have returned following a record number of midseason games that left it fatigued heading into the Leagues Cup break. 

Think back to last Tuesday, when LAFC returned from a 17-day break in which they played no games. That much-needed breather had followed a four-month odyssey in which the Black & Gold played an unprecedented 33 matches over three competitions. When LAFC kicked off against FC Juárez on August 2, no one was sure what to expect. Would this be the club of reigning champions that had collected more goals and wins than any team in MLS since it entered the league in 2018? Or the exhausted group that scored a single goal over a six-game stretch in June of this year?


The resounding answer arrived with last week’s 7-1 thrashing of FC Juárez, and was underlined during Tuesday night’s 4-0 dismissal of RSL. 

“The rest was extremely important,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said after the RSL win. “More important than the physical rest was the mental rest. Players finding the hunger to compete again, to find that competitive edge over other teams.”

Forward Denis Bouanga called the break “an opportunity to take a lot of energy back. We wanted to send a strong signal to all the other teams.”

So far in this new Leagues Cup tournament (which throws the 18 teams from Mexico’s Liga MX against the 29 in MLS until a North American champion is crowned) LAFC has scored 11 goals to its opponents’ one. The leaders in that category, Inter Miami and Mexican side Toluca, have scored 14 and 13 goals respectively – but have played four games each, to LAFC’s two. 

In addition to the rest, Cherundolo attributed his team’s output to the return of actual training sessions instead of the half-speed kickarounds of June and July whose primary purpose was to avoid adding to his team’s already lengthy injury list. And he remarked on the absence of Carlos Vela, LAFC’s legendary playmaker, who sat out the RSL match with a leg injury and watched his teammates fill the void by raising their level.


Real Salt Lake, by contrast, was forced to miss its version of Vela when midfield maestro Pablo Ruiz was helped off the field in the 13th minute with a lower extremity injury. LAFC dominated the rest of the scoreless first half and then lifted its wheels off the runway in the second:

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it counterattack finished by Bouanga, whose legs seemed even more jet-fueled Tuesday night than usual. 

A second and much simpler Bouanga goal in which he simply took the ball from RSL’s final defender and rifled it in. 

A cross-and-finish between Chiqui Palacios and the suddenly unstoppable Nate Ordaz. 

Another transition goal from the club’s newest arrival, midfielder Filip Krastev, who’s been in the U.S. less than a week. Then a celebratory “griddy” dance from the 21-year-old Bulgarian that punctuated the entire night. 

All this against a Salt Lake team that had lost just once in its previous 13 matches. 

Strong signal, delivered.


Next up: a quarterfinal date with Monterrey at the Rose Bowl on Friday August 11.