Adama Diomande

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Vela gets goal, assist to lead LAFC past Timbers 3-2

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Latif Blessing gave a simple “yes” when asked if he considers Los Angeles FC and Portland a rivalry.

Saturday’s matchup had all the makings.

Carlos Vela had a goal and an assist in the first half to lead LAFC past the Timbers 3-2.

[ MORE: Berhalter narrows Gold Cup roster ]

Vela, Major League Soccer’s goals and assists leader, helped LAFC (11-1-4) fend off Portland’s late rally to end the Timbers’ 15-game win streak in home openers.

LAFC withstood a run that included an 85th minute goal by Portland’s Brian Fernandez to pull within one, and shoving in the final minutes that resulted in yellows to Fernandez and LAFC’s Adama Diomande.

“We’re not naive, we understand teams are going to have a hard way to play against us, try to make it hard,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “When’s the last time you saw Messi get mauled the way Carlos (Vela) got mauled tonight?”

Vela scored in the 6th minute after intercepting a pass from Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. He found Diego Rossi on a cross for a goal that made it 2-0 in the 34th minute.

Portland didn’t go away. Christhian Paredes scored less than two minutes into the second half on a goalkeeper deflection as the Timbers pulled within a goal. LAFC’s Blessing countered in the 54th minute with a wide-open volley off of a cross.

“Great cross, great finish, so I’m happy,” Blessing said.

Fernandez scored on a bicycle kick inside the six-yard box to pull Portland within 3-2 in the 85th minute. It was Fernandez’s fourth goal in three appearances with the Timbers since he was acquired as a designated player on May 6.

“We knew that if we had a good start to the second half, the game was there,” Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri said. “And obviously, the crowd lifted us.

“It was a good game, and a good performance, but not the result we wanted, so we have to keep going.”

It was the first home game of the season for the Timbers (4-7-2) and the debut of the remodeled Providence Park. According to the club, the expansion added 4,137 seats in a grandstand on the stadium’s east side to push capacity over 25,000. MLS commissioner Don Garber was in attendance among the sellout crowd of 25,218.

“The place is rocking as it always does, it’s just a little bit louder,” Garber said at halftime. “More people sort of showing their passion for the team. … The Timbers are such an important part of the history of soccer in America have been reflected in the addition.”

Vela has 16 goals and 10 assists this season, six goals ahead of the next-highest scorer.

LAFC has scored a league-high 39 goals.

LAFC is in first place in the Western Conference and boasts one of the best records in the league. The Timbers, who made the MLS Cup final last season, went 4-6-2 in its first 12 games on the road.

LAFC beat RSL on more late-game heroics; first in MLS to 10 points

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Their 2019 campaign is only four weeks old, but Los Angele FC are making a name for themselves as MLS’s new cardiac kids — masters of late-game drama — with another stoppage-time winner.

[ MORE: Young FCD side tops Rapids | Kljestan, Orlando down Red Bulls ]

After knocking off Sporting Kansas City courtesy of Adama Diomande‘s 94th-minute goal in Week 1, Bob Bradley‘s boys were at it again against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Just as they did against Sporting KC, LAFC fell behind in the first half only to pull level close to halftime and break visiting hearts with 90-plus on the clock. Damir Kreilach converted from the penalty spot in the 35th minute, but the advantage lasted barely five minutes before Diego Rossi equalized in the 40th.

[ MORE: Schalke issue injury update on USMNT’s Weston McKennie ]

Then, in the 91st minute, came the stunning winner from Rossi Carlos Vela  Diomande Christian Ramirez Lee Nguyen Walker Zimmerman(?!).

Whether or not the strike took a deflection or knuckled and swerved in a way that would make the world’s greatest strikers of the ball proud — even Bradley was noncommittal either way — is largely irrelevant.

With a 3W-1D-0L record through the season’s first month, Bradley and Co., have shown their debut MLS season was no fluke. In fact, they’ve made it abundantly clear that it was actually something of a disappointment and they are intent on reaching far greater heights in 2019.

MLS: Sporting KC goes wire to wire, Atlanta United pipped by Cincinnati

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Atlanta United was moments away from putting a disappointing start to the season to bed, but in a moment, that all washed away, and the worries remained as the defending champions slumped to a 1-1 draw. Josef Martinez opened his 2019 MLS account just five minutes in to pilfer the lead, but the attack was toothless the rest of the way, and they paid for it down the stretch.

In the 86th minute, Atlanta’s defense caved, sucked forward which allowed Roland Lamah to sneak through and Kenny Saief fed him perfectly. Lamah finished past a helpless Brad Guzan one-on-one and Atlanta was pegged back. While Atlanta United had lost its previous two season openers as well, but each time previously they bounced back in roaring fashion. With Frank De Boer in control, fans are restless to see the team improve in time to keep from falling behind the early leaders.

Goalkeepers reigned supreme as NYCFC and DC United played to a 0-0 draw at Yankee Stadium. Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson filled the highlight reel, putting together nine saves between the two. Hamid was by far the busier of the two, facing 21 total shots from the hosts, with six saves of shots on target. Johnson, meanwhile, put together three saves, all of them good enough to make the postgame recap. Aside from the few big goalkeeping moments, however, the two sides produced little of interest for fans, fitting of a scoreless draw.

Sporting KC picked up its first points of the season as they earned a 2-0 victory at home against the Philadelphia Union. Ilie Sanchez put the hosts ahead with an 11th minute penalty after Auston Trusty fouled Gianluca Busio in the box. Tim Meila was required to stop Marco Fabian’s penalty past the half-hour mark, diving to his right to save the low effort. After halftime, the problems for Philadelphia would compound as Fabian was sent off for stamping on Jonny Russell’s stomach, landing on him after leaping to avoid a challenge, producing a VAR review and ultimately a straight red.

Once Philadelphia fell a man down, they were toothless up front and the hosts took control. They killed off the game in the 80th minute with an own-goal by Jack Elliott hoping to touch a cross out of play but instead poking it into the back of his own net.

LAFC stayed perfect on the season with a 4-1 win over Portland thanks to a roaring second half. The two teams traded set-piece goals in the opening half-hour. Mark-Anthony met a corner with a wild header, burying it into the back of the net despite having his back to the goal to put LAFC up, while Jeremy Ebobisse beat Eduard Atuesta to meet a free-kick with his head. LAFC went back in front right before the break as a sliding Christian Ramirez met a Jordan Harvey cross.

The final 45 minutes was total domination from the home side, out-passing Portland in the attacking third 84-27 throughout the second half, and they were rewarded on the scoresheet. Carlos Vela finished the night with three assists on the first three goals as Adama Diomande put LAFC 3-1 up in the 65th minute, and Vela scored his first goal of the season for LAFC’s fourth with a wonderful chipped finish from a tight angle. Portland saw Diego Chara sent off in the 72nd minute in hilarious fashion after earning his second yellow for flicking the ear of Diego Rossi who flopped like a fish after the contact.

Super sub Diomande gives LAFC late win over 10-man Sporting KC

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Sporting KC fouled LAFC and fouled them some more, and while it appeared they would escape Los Angeles with a point to show for it, the strategy backfired.

After picking up five first-half bookings and six overall, Roger Espinoza was sent off with six minutes to play in regulation, and LAFC took advantage of the man-up opportunity as Adama Diomande delivered the winner three minutes into stoppage time for a 2-1 win in the season opener. Sporting KC went in front before the break, but LAFC came from behind to earn all three points.

The first half was lively on both sides as Carlos Vela was dangerous throughout. Still, it was the visitors who went in front first at Banc of California Stadium as the LAFC defense was soft to allow Krisztian Nemeth to find space near the penalty area and Johnny Russell fed him for the 16th minute opener.

Both teams had plenty of chances in the first half, the biggest of which came in the 36th minute as Lee Nguyen fed a delicious through ball to Mark-Anthony Kaye who was clean on goal. The flag went up for offside, although the decision proved to be contentious upon replay, and the assistant probably should have left his flag down to let VAR provide any necessary decision after the fact. Vela’s constant presence and LAFC’s general attacking mentality forced Sporting KC into constant fouling, racking up 12 fouls and five yellow cards in the first half, the most first-half yellows since at least 2012 in an MLS match.

Just over a minute after halftime, with the home crowd still loudly behind its squad despite the deficit, Diego Rossi brought LAFC back level as he muscled past a helpless Graham Zusi to create space and rifled a pinpoint shot past a diving Tim Melia who got the faintest of fingertips to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.

LAFC nearly went in front on 57 minutes, but Eddie Segura’s powerful header off a corner was nervously parried by Meila before the rebound was cleared off the line by Seth Sinovic. The game plodded along until the 84th minute when, with a whopping six players on yellow cards, Sporting KC finally, inevitably fell a man down. In a moment of complete idiocy, Roger Espinoza needlessly went through the back of Kaye in midfield, an easy decision to show the Honduran his second yellow and reduce Sporting KC to 10 men. The marching orders are the ninth of Espinoza’s MLS career, tying him for second-most in league history and one behind the leader Jamison Olave.

That paved the way for the winner in the 94th minute. While it appeared Sporting KC was poised to earn a valuable road point amid heavy pressure, Diomande was on hand to deliver the deathblow off the bench. Having come on way back in the 59th minute, he collected a heavy touch from Jordan Harvey, switched to his right foot, and rifled a bullet just past the outstretched hands of Meila.

An infuriating attempt at the 2018 MLS Best XI

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It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.

In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.

It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.

Let’s start with the necessities.

Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.

So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:

  • Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
  • Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches

And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.

Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.

Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.

Piatti!

Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).

There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.

It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.

Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.

Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.

I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).

There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus  we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.

So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?

Robles (RBNY)

Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)

Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)

Vela (LAFC) —  Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)