LAFC 2-3 San Jose Earthquakes
MLS Regular Season – Game #21
Nov. 4, 2020
It has been a whirlwind week for LAFC in what continues to be a challenging 2020. After three LAFC players tested positive for COVID-19 following the Black & Gold’s 2-1 win over Houston on Oct. 28, their next game at San Jose originally scheduled for Nov. 1 was postponed. It was rescheduled for Wednesday night just a day before, and despite not being able to hold full team training sessions, the Black & Gold found themselves in San Jose facing a an invigorated Earthquakes team in an important late season matchup.
LAFC got on the board first, as Latif Blessing tapped in a looping cross from Diego Palacios in the 23rd minute, giving the Black & Gold an early lead in a frenetic first half.
But the lead would only last 5 minutes, as San Jose scored off a corner kick in the 28th minute that deflected off Eduard Atuesta for an own goal.
“On their first goal, the ball should never have come that easily to that first zone,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “So that allowed them right back into the game.”
A Chris Wondolowski goal in the 37th minute gave the Quakes a 2-1 lead at the half, as the Black & Gold looked to regroup.
“On the second goal, the diagonal ball to [Chris Wondolowski], [Diego Palacios] gave him too much room,” Bradley explained.
With 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela and Jordan Harvey coming on at halftime, LAFC appeared to be gaining momentum, testing James Marcinkowski in goal with extensive pressure. The Quakes went down to 10 men after a red card from Jackson Yueill in the 61st minute, but LAFC could not capitalize.
“We changed a little bit the way we played in the second half,” Bradley said. “I thought we actually started pretty well to create some chances. Then they take advantage of one time down the field when [Cristian] Espinoza is able to get a little bit of room and finish.”
San Jose made it 3-1 on that goal by Espinoza against the run of play and the Black & Gold could not recover.
The loss sets up LAFC’s key Decision Day matchup with Portland at Banc of California Stadium on Nov. 8, which will be important for playoff seeding in the Western Conference.
“This was not our best game, no doubt about that. The rhythm of the game when you play [San Jose] is always a little bit different. I thought we adjusted after the first half and had more control, but all in all it was still not as good as we liked. We’ve really got to try to hit the playoffs with confidence, with sharpness and with a mentality that we're a team that's going to fight every game, play our football, compete, and try to move and get ourselves to a final and win an MLS Cup.”
ROSSI KEEPS ROLLING TO GOLDEN BOOT
Diego Rossi continued to roll to the 2020 MLS Golden Boot, knocking in a beautiful Carlos Vela cross in the 95th minute vs. San Jose on Wednesday. It was Rossi’s 14th goal of the season in 18 games, and the 22-year-old Uruguayan sensation leads MLS in goals. He continues to be one of the most dominating players in the league this season, and now is just one more game away from making history.
Rossi and Vela will be the first teammates in MLS history to win back-to-back Golden Boots for the same team. Rossi also won the Golden Boot at the MLS Is Back Tournament in July and just continues to keep scoring goals.
He now has a total of 52 career goals for LAFC in 96 games in all competitions, and his 32 shots-on-goal leads MLS this season. His name is at the top of the MVP conversation in this abbreviated season.
“From the beginning with Diego, he was a player that had a good mentality,” Bradley said. “He’s intelligent and wanted to get better every season and he is working hard.”
For much of the season, Rossi has taken the leadership and goalscoring mantle of 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury.
“With Carlos not being here, it put more responsibility on him and he handled that well,” Bradley said.
He continues to handle the pressure in a way that makes teammates and fans forget he is such a young player.
“His ability to be dangerous and his finishing has really improved,” Bradley said. “Overall, I just think he has matured and you can see it in his mentality.”
With the LAFC lineup in flux for much of the season due to injuries and national team call-ups, Rossi has stepped up and even wore the captain’s armband when needed.
“We love the way Diego has taken more responsibility,” Bradley said. “He’s become more of a leader. You could see it in Orlando and it continues. He’s growing as a player. I’m really proud to see the way Diego just keeps focused on the right things. He’s a really good team guy and I think he’s getting better and better.”
Rossi has scored some of the biggest goals in Club history, including the first goal in LAFC history and the game-winning goal that rocketed the Black & Gold into the next round of the Concacaf Champions League over Mexico’s Club Leon. and in 2020 he has evolved to be a veteran presence.
“We’re a young team,” Bradley said. “You’ve got to try to make sure that some of these guys who have been here and understand the way we play really take more responsibility every day with their teammates, and that’s what I see from Diego.”
After spending much of the time away from the Club when the pandemic struck, Rossi was working out at home with teammate Pancho Ginella, who moved in with him for several weeks, and fellow Uruguayan and MMA fighter Gastón Reyno. Rossi returned to action in incredible shape, and it continues to show.
“I think his biggest improvement since the start has been his finishing,” LAFC defender Dejan Jaković said. “I think his accuracy has improved, his work rate is always going to be up there, but I think creating those opportunities and then being able to finish them is what has separated him.”
Bradley agreed with his veteran defender.
“Diego has improved every year,” Bradley said. “He’s been a good player from the start, but he has grown, and he’s worked hard on his finishing. You see the improvement there.”
MURILLO MAKES AN IMPACT
Jesus Murillo has only been in Los Angeles for 22 days, but the 26-year-old defender has made quite an impact. Since he was signed from Deportivo Independiente Medellin on Oct. 14, Murillo has appeared in all four games he has been eligible for, and played every single minute – for a total of 360.
The Colombian directly contributed to LAFC’s first goal vs. San Jose, whipping a perfect long ball across the field to Diego Palacios who proceeded to send the ball into the box where Latif Blessing finished it off.
“He came in and immediately showed that he’s a really solid guy and a very good player,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “He’s been a real plus for us at the end of the season.”
VERMEER STARTS AGAIN
LAFC had seven players on the injury list Wednesday vs. San Jose, and goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega, who has now missed the last two matches with a right leg injury after starting 12 games in a row in the net.
After enjoying a strong performance vs. Houston on Oct. 28, Vermeer was kept busy throughout the match as San Jose exerted pressure on the LAFC defense. The veteran keeper came up huge late in the game, stuffing Cade Cowell on a one-on-one breakaway.
It was the seventh MLS appearance of the season for Vermeer, and he is now 2-3-2.
BLESSING IN THE NET
Throughout LAFC’s history, Latif Blessing has been a mainstay for the Club. Blessing played in 30 matches in 2018, 34 in 2019, and made his 20th appearance of 2020 Wednesday vs. San Jose. With so many various factors forcing LAFC head coach Bob Bradley to make seemingly regular lineup changes, Blessing is usually on the field – but his position is always shifting. He has played much of this season as a right back, and that difference has been noticed in the stat line.
Blessing registered a career-high six goals and six assists in 2019, but so far in 2020 the versatile Ghanian had not found the back of the net.
That changed vs. San Jose, as Blessing started in an attacking midfield role and found himself in the right place in front of the net on the right cross from Diego Palacios in the 23rd minute. It was the first goal for Blessing since Aug. 25, 2019 when he scored two goals in an epic performance against the Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium.
Blessing missed LAFC’s match vs. Portland on Oct. 18 due to an illness, and made his first start since Oct. 14.