"He's a leader:" LAFC hail Chicho Arango after brace keeps their playoff hopes alive

With Carlos Vela still sidelined by injury, LAFC have struck upon a potential new star at just the right time to keep their Audi MLS Cup Playoff hopes alive going into the 2021 season's final stretch.

Cristian "Chiho" Arango, a summer arrival from Millonarios, bagged a brace and added an assist against the San Jose Earthquakes to lead LAFC to a 3-1 victory Saturday at a steamy Banc of California Stadium in a game that was realistically a must-win for two teams clinging onto the coattails of the Western Conference's top seven places. Those strikes took Arango's tally to eight goals in just 12 MLS appearances (10 starts).

Given Vela, the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP, has been out since August and Diego Rossi, the 2020 Golden Boot presented by Audi winner, was sent on loan to Fenerbahce shortly after, Arango's immediate impact has been invaluable.

"Chicho has a real presence on the field," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley of their Colombian forward. "I think he's starting to understand better some of our ideas; the way that – we don't want our attackers to feel like defensively that they are running back all the time. But the starting point of our defending, they begin the defending. They are the ones that in certain moments are close to the ball and allow us to press.

"But his presence, just on the field the way he carries himself, his ability to go by people in key moments, score goals – yeah, he's been excellent."

Arango's teammates were also quick to pay tribute to the personal qualities that have allowed him to integrate so quickly and have an impact on the roster beyond even his goals and assists.

"He's just been doing really well," said Danny Musovski, the recipient of Arango's assist for the opening goal vs. San Jose. "The goals and the assists speaks for itself. He gets along with everyone on the team, and he had another great game today.

"He's a leader. He helps us and we help him, and I just think he's done really well. He's meshed really well since he's come into the team very quickly, which is not an easy thing to do."

For a team that set an MLS points record in 2019 and reached the Concacaf Champions League Final last year, this season has certainly fallen below expectations. But Arango's positivity could be just the infusion the Black & Gold need to creep above the playoff line.

"When you ask about me as a leader, I think it's more natural and my way to lead, I can say that my calmness and my patience and good energy is what contributes," Arango said. "I definitely appreciate those who consider me as a leader. But I also consider the captains and seniority, and this is what it's all about. We all learn about each other and support each other and then I also feel that there's a lot I can learn from my teammates."

Saturday's result left LAFC just one point behind seventh-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC and only two points off Real Salt Lake in fifth place with five games remaining. The teams above them, though, all have one more game to play.

"I think going forward, we know every game is really important," added goalkeeper Jamal Blackman. "We're looking forward to try and play as well as we can, get the three points in every game. I think we need to take every game as a final. Given the performance today, I think we can build on that and going forward, we can be able to make the playoffs."