One of the first things Bob Bradley said following LAFC's Open Cup Round of 16 match with Sacramento Republic FC is in knockout tournaments "you have to earn it." Nothing will get handed to you just because you're a team in the higher league.
With its second comeback win in as many matches, this time 3-2 at Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday night, LAFC definitely earned its spot in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's win over Sacramento Republic FC:
Another Comeback, But Better Football This Time
Everyone loves a comeback story. After defeating San Jose 4-3 in its last match, LAFC manufactured another come from behind victory on Wednesday. But that is where the similarities end.
The win in San Jose was a thriller, no doubt. Goals in the 90th and 97th minute proved LAFC have the mentality necessary in adverse moments. Then again, they really put themselves in that situation with an all-around poor night on the pitch. Against Sacramento, it was a different story.
Just six minutes into the match, Lee Nguyen rattled the crossbar with a curling shot from the top of the box. And from that point on, LAFC exerted a lot of control on this match. They had a staggering 610 passes and over 66 percent of the possession. Although, not figures of dominance on their own, anyone that watched the match saw LAFC applying vast amounts of pressure to the Sacramento defense and getting into dangerous positions. If they could have just finished one of the numerous opportunities, or even had a sliver of luck from the couple of times a shot struck a post, this match might have been put to bed in the first half.
Benny Misses, Benny Scores
I've got to hand it to Benny Feilhaber. Not only was he very good on the night, but he didn't sulk when things didn't go his way in a big moment. In fact, he only got stronger.
Benny came out of the gates in his first Open Cup match with LAFC playing inspired football. He was almost gliding around the pitch, picking up balls here, spraying a pass there, or sending a teammate through high up the pitch. Sacramento simply couldn't touch him.
Had LAFC had been a bit sharper, Benny might have set up two or three goals in the first half an hour of the match. But as so often happens when a team squanders its chances on one end, LAFC found themselves behind after 35 minutes.
It was just before halftime that Benny moved his way into a dangerous position once more and was felled in the box. Stepping up to take the penalty, the LAFC captain's tame effort was easily saved.
How often does a player checkout after a moment like that? Benny simply put it behind him. After the match, he even said "if you asked me right now, I'd want to take the next penalty," adding maybe the miss raised his level. In the 58th minute, the midfielder drove past two defenders and cooly slotted a shot underneath the Republic FC goalkeeper, leveling the score at 1-1 at the time. And he remained influential until he collapsed on the pitch at the final whistle out of sheer exhaustion.
It was a gutsy performance from start to finish for Benny.
Hats Off To Sacramento
Credit where it's due, Sacramento pushed LAFC tonight.
LAFC huffed and puffed early, but Simon Elliott adjusted his side just a little after the half hour mark to cope with LAFC's play through the middle of pitch. They also began attacking the half spaces between the LAFC center backs and fullbacks, and put Tyler Miller to the test a couple of times before they finally got their goal.
And after LAFC equalized in the second half, they came right back down the pitch to take the lead once more.
The USL side definitely made it known they were no pushovers.
Man Of The Match
Diego Rossi scored a goal and put the game-winner on a platter for Latif Blessing in the 89th minute. The forward was undoubtedly the Man of the Match on Wednesday.
After being too passive as of late, Rossi took the initiative and ran with it against Sacramento. Every chance he got, Rossi looked to get behind the Republic FC defense, whether it was via a through ball or by charging hard with the ball himself. What really stood out was his willingness to force the issue repeatedly. Had it not been for the post, he probably would have had a hat trick on the night.
It was good to see Rossi engaged and a focal point of the LAFC attack from start to finish in a match.
The Game Changer
I spoke to Latif Blessing the day before this match and asked him why he loves the Open Cup so much.
Without hesitating he called his shot. He said he'd score on Wednesday and help the Club bring the trophy to LA, just like he did for Sporting KC last year.
He now has two goals in two Open Cup matches this season, after scoring three, including one in the Open Cup final, last season.
Who am I to argue with the Game Changer?