Five wins to lift a trophy.
The U.S. Open Cup, with its knockout format and inclusion of lower division and amateur sides, is a competition with surprises every year - for all the Goliaths in the tournament, one David is always lurking. But since 1996, when MLS sides began playing in the country's oldest soccer tournament, only three teams have reached the semifinal in their expansion season - 1998 Chicago Fire, 2009 Seattle Sounds, and now, LAFC in 2018.
LAFC meets the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday (5:30 pm PT | Streaming at USsoccer.com) in the Open Cup semifinal. The quest for the first trophy in Club history began back in June. So how did we get here? Let's take a look back at LAFC's Open Cup so far:
LAFC 2-0 Fresno FC
A match of firsts, as so many have been this year for LAFC. The first U.S. Open Cup match Club history, first Open Cup match at Banc of California stadium, and subsequently, the match produced LAFC's first Open Cup goal and Open Cup win.
But if the Black & Gold thought the tournament was going to be a cakewalk, this match was the awakening they needed. Fresno FC played a compact and physical style that had LAFC perplexed and stunted for the opening 45 minutes. Keeping 10 men behind the ball at all times, the Foxes constricted spaces and kept LAFC from finding gaps in behind.
The breakthrough finally came 53 minutes into the match. Diego Rossi, also the first scorer in MLS history for LAFC, became the first to score an Open Cup goal in Club history when he nudged the ball just over the line after a scramble just yards from the Fresno goalmouth. Latif Blessing sealed the victory three minutes later when he followed up an LAFC attack with a precisely placed shot off the inside of his right foot and into the bottom corner. Up 2-0, LAFC's backline held Fresno's late forays at bay, as the Black & Gold moved on to the Round of 16.
LAFC 3-2 Sacramento Republic FC
Two weeks after dispatching of Fresno FC, LAFC welcomed another USL side to Banc of California Stadium. It was a familiar foe this time, as Sacramento Republic FC made the trip from up north to contest the Round of 16 match nearly four months after LAFC finished its preseason preparations with a 1-0 victory in Sacramento.
A more open contest than the one against Fresno, LAFC were finding combinations but have trouble making end roads to the Republic goal early on. And as LAFC struggled to create clearcut opportunities, Sacramento struck first. A missed tackle in midfield sent LAFC racing to cover as the Republic broke in on Tyler Miller's goal. The LAFC goalkeeper managed to keep the first shot out, but Elliott Hord blasted the rebound into the back of the net.
LAFC were behind in an Open Cup match for the first time in its history, but they nearly had the perfect response.
After he was pulled down in the Republic penalty area a couples of minutes from halftime, Benny Feilhaber stepped to the spot to convert the resulting penalty. The midfielder sprinted to the spot, hesitated, and then sent a tame effort to the Republic goalkeeper's right that was easily saved. LAFC went in at halftime down 1-0, and with more questions than answers.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, Feilhaber made amends for his missed penalty. Receiving the ball on the turn about 25 yards from goal, he drove between two Sacramento defenders and into the penalty before sidestepping another. Unleashing a well-angled low drive, Feilhaber found the side netting and knotted the score at 1-1 in the 58th minute. The elation of being level didn't last long though, as two minutes later Sacramento went on top once more. This time, it was a clockwork give-and-go effort capped off by a powerful shot from the boot of Vilian Bizhev in the 60th minute.
Once again, LAFC were behind. And once again, they found a response. After striking the post moments earlier, Diego Rossi took a similar shot from a similar angle, and found the net in the the 67th minute to level the score. Back level, the Black & Gold surged forward with only a victory in regular time on their minds. And just like he had in the previous Open Cup match, Latif Blessing followed up Rossi's strike with one of his own, this time the game-winner off a Rossi cross in the 89th minute.
A quarterfinal now awaited LAFC, and this time, an MLS opponent, too.
LAFC 3-2 Portland Timbers
A third successive Open Cup match at Banc of California Stadium, and the second with the Timbers in a four-day span, the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match was hotly contested on and off the pitch.
Carlos Vela, making his first appearance in the tournament, kickstarted the match with a dangerous cross that was inadvertently turned into the Portland goal by Timbers midfielder David Guzmán in the 33rd minute. A goal to the good, Vela went in search of a second for his side. Cutting across the Portland box with the ball kept close to his left foot, Vela picked out the bottom left corner of the Portland net with deadly accuracy in the 38th minute.
In control on the scoresheet and on the pitch, it looked as though LAFC would go in up 2-0 at half, but a late free kick nodded in by defender Julio Cascante brought LAFC back down to earth after what had been a nearly flawless 45 minutes. The Black & Gold would need an immediate response in the second half, and they got one from another World Cup returnee.
Playing in his first Open Cup action of 2018, Marco Ureña coolly redirected a Jordan Harvey shot into Portland's open net in the 51st minute. The two-goal lead was restored. Ureña had his first competitive goal with LAFC, and the expression of relief on the Costa Rican's face was undeniable. But before the smoke from the celebrations could clear, Portland pulled within a goal once again.
Timbers defender Vytas got on the end of what seemed a harmless ball rolling to the edge of the LAFC penalty area, and beat Tyler Miller with a low shot to the near post. With a renewed sense of urgency, Portland brought on Samuel Arementeros and Diego Valeri in search of the tying goal. But for all their firepower, Portland could not breach Miller's net another time. LAFC were through on the scoresheet 3-2. The quarterfinal didn't end there though.
Following the match, Portland filled a formal complaint with Open Cup organizers and U.S. Soccer claiming LAFC had broken tournament rules by fielding one too many international players in the match. The player in question, Mark-Anthony Kaye, had been expressly cleared by the Open Cup and listed on the roster as a domestic player, despite having Canadian citizenship and lacking a green card. The semifinal draw was postponed, and organizers looked into the issue behind closed doors. Speculation regarding the consequences raged on social media.
But in the end, Portland withdrew its complaint, acknowledging LAFC had won on the field, and clearing the way for an LAFC and Houston semifinal.
One win closer to a trophy.