Diego Rossi

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Preview: LAFC favorites to reach MLS is Back semis; who joins them?

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Who will join the Philadelphia Union, who dismantled Sporting Kansas City in the first of four quarterfinal matchups on Thursday, in the semifinals of the MLS is Back tournament?

[ MORE: USMNT’s Weston McKennie remains keen on Premier League transfer ]

Orlando City SC v. Los Angeles FC — Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET

While it’s impossible to say with absolute certainty ahead of the weekend’s games, at least one clear favorite stands head and shoulders above the other six remaining sides: reigning Supporters’ Shield winners, LAFC — yes, even without reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela who opted out of the tournament to remain with his pregnant and to be present for the birth of their child.

After a bumpy start to the group stage, LAFC thrashed rivals LA Galaxy in group game no. 2; it was more of the same against reigning MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders in the round of 16 — arguably the two most impressive performances of the tournament thus far. Diego Rossi has been happy to step in and shoulder the goal-scoring load with seven goals in four games — paving the way for rumors-a-plenty about European transfer interest — along with Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored a goal in each of the three group games.

As for Friday’s opponent and the surprise performers of the tournament thus far, Orlando City, under the guidance of newly installed head coach Oscar Pareja, are enjoying what is easily their best run of results since joining MLS in 2015, making this the most intriguing clash of the quarterfinals.

San Jose Earthquake v. Minnesota United — Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Speaking of massively improved sides under a new head coach, Matias Almeyda got San Jose playing some high-quality soccer for much of 2019 before the wheels fell off late in the season. Almeyda is back for a second season in the Bay Area, and the ‘Quakes look to have gone to another level under the Argentine’s guidance. Winger Cristian Espinoza was a particularly bright spot last season and has only picked up where he left off with two goals and an assist in Orlando already. With Espinoza opposite Vako on the other side of the field, San Jose are getting significant contributions from the wings, which is a welcome change of pace after years of having to rely too heavily upon Chris Wondolowski and only Wondo.

With all of that said, Minnesota should prove to be a particularly tough matchup, given the degree to which they limit teams’ chances. Adrian Heath loves to play the “nobody believes in us, everybody thinks we’re terrible” card, but the rest of the league has taken notice of the Loons, who are yet to lose in this tournament. Having taken down early-days darlings Columbus Crew SC, the only side to win all three of their group games, in the round of 16 will ensure that Minnesota are no longer able to fly under anyone’s radar.

New York City FC v. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The final game of the weekend is just as intriguing as the first two, but for a different reason. NYCFC and Portland have each mucked and yucked their respective paths to the quarterfinals without ever once looking overly dominant or… good. NYCFC advanced from the group stage as third-place finishers with just three points, and though Portland won their group and finished ahead of LAFC, they never looked convincing — a pair of 2-1 victories over the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo is hardly something to brag about.

So, now they face one another — a near-mirror image of themselves, both in terms of their respective paths to this point and a very familiar tactical approach. Though each side has plenty of South American attacking talent, Ronny Deila and Giovanni Savarese have each favored a low-block defensive approach and hung their hopes on creating scoring chances on the counter. So, Sunday’s late game presents us with the age-old question: what happens when two teams who sit back and wait for their opponents to attack play one another? The result, as is often the case, could be a rather difficult watch.

Rossi salvages point for Vela-less LAFC in Orlando (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  With serious possibilities of losing back-to-back games without the league’s best player in Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi stepped up for LAFC. The Uruguayan’s goal in the 78th minute – his 15th of the season – earned the Supporters’ Shield favorites a point in their visit to Exploria Stadium on Saturday night. Despite dealing with injuries and international absences, Rossi’s impact was a quick reminder of the type of firepower that Michael Bradley possesses. Orlando City, playing inspired in front of their home crowd with hopes of making playoffs intact, also tested their all-around depth through the legs of what seemed like vintage Luis Nani. LAFC, however, didn’t fold in front of the Portuguese, proving to be the better team when defending and in moving the ball forward. Four points out of playoffs and with four games to play, Orlando’s playoffs hopes hang by a thread, while LAFC remain on track to lift silverware sooner rather than later.

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Vintage Nani levels the game  — We’ve seen this before from the 32-year-old.

20′ —  Michel finishes a lovely sequence — A beautiful goal.

78′ — Rossi earns LAFC a point — There are reasons why European teams are closely monitoring the Uruguayan.

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Man of the match: Luis Nani

Goalscorers: Perez (12′), Nani (13′), Michel (20′), Rossi (78′)

Unstoppable LAFC end Revs’ 11-game unbeaten run (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Coming into the weekend’s premier matchup in MLS, Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution found itself above the playoff cut line on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run that began all the way back on May 11. In that time, the Revs took down the likes of San Jose, LA Galaxy, Houston and Orlando, to name a few, but they had face no one on par with runaway Supporters’ Shield leaders Los Angeles FC. All of the above changed on Saturday, when Bob Bradley‘s men walked out of Gillette Stadium with a 2-0 victory. Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing scored the goals — one in each half — and LAFC ran their modest recent run of results to five wins in their last six games. Their lead in the Shield race walkover is 13 points with 11 games left to play.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Rossi loops it high and back down for the opener — How many players in MLS even see the 10-foot-high looping finish as an option in this scenario, let alone have the technical wherewithal to pull it off? The answer is a small number, but it includes Rossi.

41′ — Farrell saves his own embarrassing blemish on the goal line — Andrew Farrell almost scored an embarrassing, if unlucky, own goal, but managed to sprint to the goal line and clear the ball away in the nick of time.

72′ — Blessing finishes a fantastic team goal for 2-0 — Champagne football from LAFC, innit? There should be about five secondary assists handed out on this one.

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Man of the match: Jordan Harvey

Goalscorers: Rossi (8′), Blessing (72′)

Report: LAFC on the verge of $11.5 million transfer signing

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Los Angeles FC seems to believe it has found the next Diego Rossi, and it didn’t have to look far from the source.

According to major Uruguayan newspaper El Observador, LAFC has acquired 19-year-old winger Brian Rodriguez from Uruguayan giant Penarol with an $11.5 million transfer fee. Rodriguez made his debut for Penarol in March 2018 and has, in the last two years, become an integral part of the squad that won the most recent Uruguayan league title. In 23 games, according to the report, Rodriguez has scored three goals.

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The report states that Rodriguez will play Penarol’s Copa Sudamericana match against Flamengo at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium on Wednesday before departing for the U.S. to complete the transfer.

In addition to his work at the club level, Rodriguez was identified at a young age by the Uruguayan National Team and has been a key member of both the Under-17 and Under-20 Men’s National Teams. Rodriguez played four times for Uruguay at the recent FIFA Under-20 World Cup, scoring a pair of goals. Uruguay’s U-20 program is what grooms all its players for senior level, and teammate Bruno Mendez has already gotten a pair of caps for the senior team now, just age 19 himself.

For LAFC, it’s quite a bit of money to spend on a young, unproven player, but they’re clearly rolling the dice on a player they think can help bring the club a title this year and beyond.

LAFC scores 4 goals in 12 minutes, beats Atlanta United 4-3

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela scored two of Los Angeles FC’s four goals during a 12-minute stretch in a 4-3 victory over Atlanta United on Friday night.

Los Angeles (15-3-4) trailed in the second minute, but started its scoring surge in the 33rd on Adama Diomand’s fourth goal in four games. Rossi’s 12th goal of the season came five minutes later, and Vela scored on a penalty kick for his league-leading 22th. Eduard Atuesta gave LAFC a 4-1 lead in the 45th.

Mohammed Adams, who was selected No. 10 overall in 2018 SuperDraft, opened the scoring in his first start for Atlanta (11-9-3) by curling home a loose ball in front of the net. Josef Martinez capped the first-half scoring with his 17th goal to pull Atlanta to 4-2 in stoppage time.

United scored six minutes into the second half on Eddie Segura’s own goal. Martinez had good goal-scoring opportunities in the 62nd and 66th.