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Five Things to Know Ahead of Houston

LAFC’s third appearance in the Western Conference Final presents a familiar opponent and old connections

The Stakes

LAFC will take on Houston Dynamo FC in the Western Conference Final on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. PT, at BMO Stadium. For LAFC the match represents its third trip to the conference final in the Club’s six years of existence—this one arriving near the end of an unprecedented season comprised of 51 games (so far), and the pursuit of seven different trophies, two of which are still dangling in front of head coach Steve Cherundolo’s team.

The first of those, the MLS Western Conference trophy, which LAFC earned a year ago by defeating Austin FC, is a two-foot silver goblet that will be on hand Saturday night and will be presented to the winners.

With the top two seeds in the West having been eliminated (St. Louis and Seattle), Saturday’s matchup presents a battle between the third and fourth seeds—two clubs with rich histories and a legacy of entertaining clashes (see below).

The winner will travel to Ohio on December 9 to play in the MLS Cup Final against the team that advances out of Saturday’s Eastern Conference final between the Columbus Crew and CF Cincinnati (3:00 pm PT start time). That match will conclude just before LAFC and Houston kick-off.

The Setup 

Houston’s story is one of dramatic improvement following a 2022 campaign that saw the Dynamo finish 13th in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. This summer head coach Ben Olsen’s team defeated Inter Miami to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, then went on a tear, losing just one of its final 14 games across all competitions (9W-1L-4D) before toppling Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City in the first two rounds of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

LAFC leads the all-time series with Houston, with a record of 5W-3L-5D. The Dynamo got the better of the Black & Gold in the 2023 regular season, winning 4-0 in Houston on June 10, then four days later securing a 1-0 victory in L.A.—one of just three road wins Houston captured in MLS play in 2023.

The June 14 match had been originally slated for April 29 but was rescheduled to accommodate LAFC’s appearance in the Concacaf Champions League Semifinal, a two-leg matchup with the Philadelphia Union that LAFC won on aggregate, 4-1.

Historically speaking, LAFC and Houston both entered Major League Soccer on the front foot. LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield in its second season, 2019, while Houston won the MLS Cup in its first two seasons, 2006 and 2007.

Playoff Franco

The two clubs have a few players in common, including Dynamo forward Corey Baird, a San Diego-area product who made 14 appearances for LAFC in 2022 (and scored the club’s first goal that season) before being traded to Houston in July 2022.

Dynamo fullback Franco Escobar, a member of LAFC’s 2022 MLS Cup championship team, received his ring in a pregame ceremony at BMO Stadium before the teams’ June 14 match. In 2022 the Argentinian defender made 19 appearances for LAFC, including 13 starts, and scored a dramatic 82nd-minute goal against Philadelphia in May that salvaged a 2-2 draw against LAFC’s eventual opponent in the MLS Cup Final.

Before joining LAFC, Escobar spent four seasons with Atlanta United, where he earned the nickname “Playoff Franco” by scoring critical goals in the 2018 and 2019 MLS Cup playoffs. That moniker came to life again last weekend in Houston’s 1-0 Conference Semifinal victory over Sporting KC, when Escobar scored the game’s only goal, a leaping header on a corner kick from Hector Herrera.

Club Connections

Herrera, the star Houston midfielder who this week was named to MLS’ Best XI (along with LAFC forward Dénis Bouanga), is the longtime captain of Mexico’s Men’s National Team, where he earned several caps alongside LAFC captain Carlos Vela. The 33-year-old Tijuana native produced a complete season in 2023, starting 29 games, scoring four goals, and contributing 17 assists (second-most in MLS).

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo and Houston head coach Ben Olsen played together on the U.S. Men’s National team throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.

LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta is a Texas native (Dallas), as is LAFC defender Julian Gaines (Austin). Houston defender and Burbank native Daniel Steres, who has appeared in 26 games for the Dynamo this season, played at Calabasas High School and San Diego State.

2018 Rain Delay Games 

Hardcore fans of the Dynamo and Black & Gold will remember the two games in 2018 in which Mother Nature became their common opponent. Los Angeles is known for its clear weather, but Friday, October 12, 2018, brought monsoon conditions to the area. After Houston took a 1-0 lead in the driving rain in the 33rd minute, lightning arrived, delaying the game for nearly two hours as LAFC’s 3252 Supporters’ Section—a new phenomenon at the time—hunkered beneath the stands, chanting, drumming, and bonding while they waited.

Eight minutes after the game resumed, Vela scored the tying goal. LAFC’s captain would have a hand in all four goals the Black & Gold scored that night (two goals and two assists). The final whistle arrived three-and-a-half hours after the game had kicked off. The 4-2 victory was LAFC’s first ever over the Dynamo. The two teams drew, 2-2, earlier that year, with Houston scoring two goals in stoppage time in a game that was paused for 90 minutes due to a severe rainstorm in south Texas.

Finally

  • Vela has scored four goals against Houston goalie Steve Clark over the years (two in 2022, and two in 2020-21, when Clark played for Portland). Vela has beaten only two MLS goalkeepers more often than he’s bested Clark. Vela has scored against Seattle’s Stefan Frei four times, Mario Daniel Vega of San Jose five times, and David Bingham (Galaxy/Portland) ten times.
  • French-born forward Denis Bouanga of LAFC (whose 37 goals in 2023 are one goal shy of Vela’s record for the most goals scored by an MLS player in a single calendar year) competed against French-born midfielder Amine Bassi of Houston when they played in Ligue 2 (France’s second division) in 2017-18.
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