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And still, there was one…
It wasn’t easy but LAFC remains the only unbeaten side in MLS in 2023. Nashville took an early lead through Hany Mukhtar. Then spent the majority of the first half looking the side most likely to find the match’s second goal.
Despite extending its club record unbeaten run to eight games to start the season, LAFC had more than a few chances to win the match after Dénis Bouanga ripped a shot from the top of the box into the Nashville net to make it 1-1.
“I thought Nashville did an excellent job in the first half and really gave us some problems,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherdunolo after the draw. “They played a little differently tonight, so hat’s off to them. They had a good match plan and implemented it well in the first 40 minutes.
“But I think we found answers in the second half and created enough chances to win. Disappointed with our finishing but I’m happy with the performance.”
Now without an MLS match until May 6, all of LAFC’s energy and lessons through this unbeaten run will go into reaching the Concacaf Champions League final for the second time in three years.
But let’s have one last look at the 1-1 draw in Nashville with some Takeaways:
A Moment 7 Years In The Making
At 18, Erik Dueñas is the youngest player to start for LAFC this season. He also predates the Club itself.
As a Club, LAFC’s first competitive matches were in 2016. When a U12 LAFC Academy side kicked off in February of that year. Like I said, “first competitive” matches -- not first MLS matches.
Dueñas was part of that original squad. Against Nashville, he became the second LAFC homegrown player to start a match. And in the 77th minute, just as Jake Zivin and Taylor Twellman sang his praises on the Apple TV broadcast, Dueñas had a moment that strung a throughline directly from LAFC in 2016 to now.
Receiving a progressive pass on the back foot of his half-turn in midfield, Dueñas darted upfield. The first touch was excellent and done with a speed of play and thought that opened the entire field to the young midfielder. Spotting the run of Mahala off the edge of the Nashville fullback, Dueñas attempted to slot an inside pass as the center back and fullback retreated from his direct advances.
The pass between the two defenders would have put Mahala through on goal. And even though it was cut out at the last moment, it’s an action with LAFC’s game model written all over it. Executed by a player that has literally grown with the Club. That’s pretty cool for every LAFC fan out there and every aspiring young player in Los Angeles.
Just in case, you thought it was beginner’s luck. In the 89th minute, Dueñas in one movement shifted the ball quickly from front to back, escaping a defender pressing him tightly from behind in his defensive half. Once again, he drove LAFC forward to the point where if you said he had taken over the match in that 12-minute spell, I wouldn’t argue.
After my first glance at the starting lineup for LAFC, I had the same thought as many of you: Bouanga - Biuk - Bogusz. Let’s go!
Even if it was a front three born out of rotation, I’m coining “The BBB” now.
Mateusz Bogusz, in his first start for LAFC, couldn’t assert himself with the ball, while Stipe Biuk could barely get a touch.
Dénis Bouanga had LAFC’s best chance of the first 45 minutes and shot straight at Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis. But they came alive in the second half.
All three players were on the ball and on the move much more in the second half. Bouanga got the leveler with a precise finish, but we’ve almost come to expect that by now. I thought the 20-year-old Biuk and 21-year-old Bogusz battling on despite the slow start to the match was worth noting.
Biuk created the Bouanga goal out of nothing by not giving up on a ball and pressing a Nashville defender into a deflected pass. The ball caromed off Biuk into the path of Bouanga with a wide runway and 25 yards to goal.
Biuk probably should have scored the game-winner when Bogusz refused to give up on a ball deep in the Nashville penalty area in the 64th minute. The Polish attacker then had the poise to tiptoe the goal line before lifting up his head to pick out a cutback to Biuk.
Like Cherundolo said after the match, the finishing was disappointing. But you love seeing two young players refuse to drop their heads even as they struggled with their team behind a goal. That’s a great mentality for any young player to have.
Go For It
The way Steve Cherundolo and his staff understand the team’s needs and read a game is second to none in this league. In the 70th minute, he made the call to go for it by sending on Carlos Vela, Kellyn Acosta, and Mahala with the score knotted at 1-1.
The triple-sub ticked so many boxes for me.
On the road after fighting through a tough first half, LAFC had a point in hand. Most teams would lock up shop and not risk it. But as the teams started to get stretched, more space was popping up for LAFC’s attackers. The situation was perfect for the subs.
Even with an important match ahead in midweek, you’d like to give your rested players a chance the maintain some rhythm. They weren’t told to hold the draw, Cherundolo wanted them to chase the winner - good practice with decisive games ahead.
At this point in the match, there aren’t many tactics going on. It’s tired legs and open spaces. In other words, it’s now a game of moments. In that case, you’d rather your team has the most talent on the pitch should the moments arise. Which is exactly the move Cherundolo made.
It was low-risk, high-reward with an eye towards Wednesday in Philly - include Ilie Sánchez not having to play 90 minutes as another box ticked. And it was a Cifu header off the post and a Chiqui Palacios toe poke away from paying off.