Cristian Arango to the rescue? LAFC's new Colombian striker fuels playoff push

Cristian “Chicho” Arango made a good first impression on Bob Bradley. And his second, third and fourth impressions have been maybe even better.

The Colombian forward has helped ignite a late-season spark for LAFC, who are now level on points with seventh-place Real Salt Lake following a 3-2 win over that Western Conference squad Sunday night.

Arango struck for a brace in the win, extending his goal-scoring streak to three consecutive matches. LAFC have gone 2-0-1 during that span, scoring a combined 10 goals.

It’s a far cry from four straight defeats in a seven-match winless run that appeared to bury LAFC below the playoff line.

Chicho to the rescue?

“He’s a really good, solid guy – he’s got a good mentality on the field,” the Black & Gold's head coach said. “He’s a guy you can count on. He plays for the team, but he puts himself in positions in the box. He’s a threat at all times and he now shows he can play a real important role for us.”

Arango’s arrival comes at the ideal time for LAFC. They’ve been without the last two Golden Boot presented by Audi winners, with Carlos Vela sidelined due to injury and Diego Rossi loaned to Turkey's Fenerbahce.

And in what Bradley labeled a “six-pointer” against RSL, Brian Rodriguez was in Uruguay tending to “personal situations he needed to clear up,” according to Bradley. Rodriguez had been with La Celeste for Conmebol's latest World Cup qualifiers.

LAFC needed a goal-scoring spark Sunday night and Arango provided one in a big way. He tallied the fastest goal in club history, giving LAFC a lead after 20 seconds, and then struck again on the half-hour mark after RSL leveled.

“Chicho was fantastic,” Bradley said of the 26-year-old. "The two goals, but also his pure ability when we needed to play forward a bit more, for him to hold on balls and bring other guys into the game.”

Arango was one of the biggest arrivals in the Secondary Transfer Window, coming from Colombian side Millonarios where he had 20 goals and three assists in 50 matches.

But it’s more than just an ability to put the ball in the back of the net that's impressed his new boss.

“From the beginning, you could tell he’s got strong character, he’s got a great mentality,” Bradley said. “That part just rubs off in a good way on everybody. You can just tell. When a play shows up and he’s motivated, he’s into it, picking up ideas, and then he goes on the field in games and is ready to do anything to help the team, that’s a big statement. And he’s done that from the start.”

Arango said having that work ethic, that team-first mentality “is fundamental.” He also lauded his new team’s mindset to battle back from adversity and get some much-needed results in the 2021 season's final third.

“We’re 11 warriors who must give it their all,” Arango said through a translator. “All the games have 90 minutes plus some, and tonight we have a great reward worthy of our great effort. We’ve suffered together and we celebrate together. Overall, I’m very happy with the mentality of the group and we hope to continue gaining points.”

Can Arango keep LAFC on his shoulders and lift them into the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs? They could move above that line Wednesday (9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) when visiting last-place Austin FC, their first of 11 regular-season games to go.

“We said the other day they’re all six-point games now,” Bradley said. “We’ve got to have a really strong mentality and when you win some good games you hope you can take things from those games, confidence and the mentality of that at the end, even if the football’s not perfect, knowing how to see a game out, get the points and carry that to the next game.”