BLACK & GOLD END GAME
LAFC 2-0 Austin FC
April 17, 2021
LAFC kicked off its fourth season in Club history just like it did its previous three….with a win. Despite starting the match without injured 2020 leading scorer and Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi and finishing the final 68 minutes without 2019 Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela, the Black & Gold used two second half goals from Corey Baird and Jose Cifuentes to hand Austin FC their first loss ever, 2-0.
OPENING DAY SUCCESS
With the win over Austin, LAFC improved to 4-0-0 in season openers and 4-0-0 in home openers at the Banc.
LAFC defeated Seattle 1-0 in the first game in Club history in 2018, and then defeated Sporting KC 2-1 on March 3, 2019 in the first game of their second season. LAFC defeated another expansion team, Inter Miami 1-0 on March 1, 2020 in the season opener.
“You always to start off the season with a win,” LAFC forward Danny Musovski said. “We knew that Austin was a new team and they're going to come out with a lot of energy and they wanted to start their season off right too.”
LAFC all-time leading goal scorer and the 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela was forced to exit the match in the 22nd minute after appearing to injure his right leg reaching for a ball. After receiving treatment on the sideline, Vela thought he could try to keep playing, but LAFC head coach Bob Bradley had already signaled for a substitute to relieve his forward, forcing a frustrated Vela to end his night early.
“Maybe I jumped the gun,” Bradley said about taking out the Mexican superstar. “When he went off the field, he had a look and he gave me a little indication [that he needed to come out], but then he came over and it was almost like he wanted to try.
After only playing 22 minutes on April 17, the last time that Vela played 90+ minutes in a regular season game at the Banc and did not score was on May 4, 2019 in a 0-0 draw with Chicago.
“You make quick decisions,” Bradley said about taking off Vela. “Sometimes you take a guy off because you think, ‘I don’t want it to get worse.’ It’s the first game of the year. So, yes, I jumped the gun, but as a coach, you do a lot of things that players don’t agree with or don’t like. That’s part of the work. It’s just how things operate inside a team.”
FANS BACK TO THE BANC
For the first time since March 8, 2020, LAFC played in front of fans at Banc of California Stadium. It had been well over a year, and there were only 4,900 screaming supporters in Black & Gold instead of the usual 22,000+, but it still felt good.
“It was a special day to have the fans back in the stadium,” Bradley said.
Corey Baird, who scored the game-winning goal in his first start and appearance at the Banc, was excited to get in front of an actual crowd, and felt the energy.
“I think the fans played a huge role today, just keeping us going and giving us that energy,” Baird said. “They did an unbelievable job today, making noise and cheering our game.”
The scaled down 3252 was so loud, that goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega needed a throat lozenge after the match after trying to bark out instructions over them for 90 minutes.
“Having the fans back made a difference,” Sisniega said. “I lost my voice a little bit because of that, it’s obviously awesome to have them back.”
In just his second season in Black & Gold, Musovski was actually making his first appearance in front of a fan-filled Banc of California Stadium.
“Obviously the fans are very important to this club and it felt very good,” Musovski said. “Although it was, around 5,000 people, I swear that it felt like it was 18,000 people because it was so loud and they brought so much energy and that energy transferred to us on the field, and that was special.”
The MLS leading scorer in 2020 was a late scratch from the LAFC lineup on April 17, missing the first game of the season due to a sore hamstring.
“He felt a little something in his hamstring where he was slowing down,” Bradley said about the injury suffered during training. “Maybe he slipped a little bit and felt something. The images don’t seem bad, so I would like to think that he is not out too long. There was no reason to push it if he wasn’t comfortable.”
The 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year, Corey Baird struggled through a difficult 2020 much like everyone else. He managed only two goals, a career low and down from the eight he scored as a first-year player in Real Salt Lake, a showing that earned him an invitation to the U.S. National Team.
The former Stanford star is looking to rekindle that magic in Los Angeles after an off-season trade to his home state, and the Escondido, CA native began 2021 with a blast, knocking home the game-winner in the second half in his LAFC debut.
“It was awesome,” Baird said. “Getting out in front of the fans, getting my debut, getting a goal and getting our first win of the season – you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Baird received a pass from Danny Musovski on the left corner of the 18-yard box after a nice build-up from the Black & Gold before firing a shot home past the Austin goalkeeper.
“Danny had the ball and he was trying to get it over to Latif,” Baird said. “I wanted to give him an option for him to slip me in on goal, and then I saw some space. You don’t get that much space right outside the 18. So I took it on, and I got a little lucky with the deflection, but if you don’t shoot – you don’t score.”
It was important to Baird to start things off on the right foot with his new club.
“Getting goals and assists, that helps the confidence,” Baird said. “Coming in as a new player, I wanted to make sure I got off to a good start. I was trying to make sure I was really ready for this game both physically and mentally.”
YOUTH IS SERVED
LAFC boasts one of the youngest rosters in MLS in 2021, with 11 players age 22 or younger and 20 players that are 25-years-old and younger. The youth on the roster is not a new phenomenon, however, as the Black & Gold led the league in minutes played by players under the age of 22 in 2020 with a total of 4,529 minutes. In 2020, LAFC had a league-high nine players under 22 who saw the field, and the 4,529 minutes played by young players accounted for a league-high 24.1% of all LAFC minutes played in 2020.