In a match that had playoff-like intensity, LAFC were more than up to the challenge in Friday night's 2-1 comeback victory over Seattle Sounders FC at Banc of California Stadium.

After falling behind 1-0 just 14 minutes after kickoff through an own goal off Jesus David Murillo, the Black & Gold responded emphatically from the early deficit, putting both the equalizer and the go-ahead goal past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei through strikes from Kwadwo Opoku and Carlos Vela before the break.

In the second half, LAFC, which opened up a six-point lead in the Supporters' Shield race over the Philadelphia Union in the first match of Week 23, put on a clinic in seeing out a match, ultimately holding the Sounders without a shot on target for the entire 90 minutes.

"I think our first-half performance, after the first 12-15 minutes, was excellent," LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said postgame. "It was fast, it was dangerous, and it was fruitful, scoring two goals. So, I think also with our defensive effort in the second half, not really conceding much, if anything at all – you deserve to win games. And that's how we've continued to win games this season.

"It was a team effort tonight," he added. "Our group stood up to the challenge and mastered the challenge and I was very pleased with the character of our team again. We win games when everybody contributes and that was again the case tonight."

Chiellini masterpiece

That defensive effort was spearheaded in part by a vintage performance from one of LAFC's prized midseason acquisitions.

Making his third start since his blockbuster arrival from Juventus, Giorgio Chiellini was masterful throughout his 72-minute shift, quieting any notion he may have lost a step at age 37. The Italian national team legend was instrumental in keeping Seattle's attack at bay and provided a noticeable calming presence in the first half after a back-and-forth start eventually saw the visitors opening the scoring.

"His first-half performance was more than good, it was excellent," Cherundolo said of Chiellini. "He didn't make a mistake. His anticipation, his ability to push the tempo, to think one step ahead, but also to carry teammates with him, is truly incredible. And he's also in the middle of preseason and it was very clear at the beginning of the game that he may not last for 90 minutes.

"We don't want to risk anything because he's in a great spot physically, so every minute he was on the field, he didn't miss a beat, like last week as well. So very, very pleased with Giorgio and what I'm most pleased with is how engaged he is, how emotional he is for the group, how happy he is for the group. It's like he's been here for five years. It's truly incredible and it's a testament of his character."

For his part, Chiellini said his first few matches in MLS have reinforced his belief that he is still capable of playing at a high level after arriving stateside following his distinguished two-decade run in Italy.

"Football is my passion," Chiellini said. "I still feel good, good enough to play, good enough to train every day and try this new experience. I doubted my experience at Juventus right at the end because I really did everything I had in my body. But at the same time, I feel I am still good to play another experience. I talked many times to come to MLS and I never had the chance. But after many, many things and I realized this little dream.

"...I am happy, you can see I'm enjoying playing."

Depth on display

The match was also a demonstration of the impressive depth assembled by LAFC brass. The prettiest goal of the evening was scored by Opoku, the 21-year-old Ghanian forward who is experiencing something of a breakout campaign in his third season with the club. After featuring in just seven matches combined across 2020 and 2021, he's netted five goals in 1,270 minutes this season after Friday's game-tying strike, which became an instant candidate for AT&T 5G Goal of the Week.

The powerful blast from distance was in part motivated by a pregame pep talk from new superstar teammate Gareth Bale, Opoku said.

"I've been practicing the shots from long range and stuff," he said after the match. "When we were about to start the game, Bale came to me and told me I should shoot more and I should have confidence in my shooting. So, that motivates me to get that shot every day."

Opoku's continued emergence would add yet another layer to an already star-studded attack. On the defensive side, Cherundolo said Chiellini's integration also gives him an embarrassment of riches in central defense, where Murillo and Chiellini are already forming a strong partnership. The club also have 19-year-old Senegalese defender Mamadou Fall, widely considered one of the most talented young players in MLS, at the position.

"Those two have a good understanding," Cherundolo said of Murillo and Chiellini. "They're communicating, they're getting to know each other and it's good, we're happy with it. We were also happy with the backline before that. The amount of high-quality center backs we have is something that isn't very common, especially in this league. We know we can put anyone in at any time and it will look great. Both of them are doing their part. What it looks like in the future, we'll see."

Bale's home debut

Speaking of Bale, LAFC fans got their first glimpse of the former Tottenham and Real Madrid star on his new home field after he replaced Cristian Arango as a 63rd-minute substitute and finished out the match.

Bale didn't find the scoresheet after scoring his first MLS goal in LAFC's 2-0 road victory over Sporting Kansas City in Week 22, but Cherundolo said the 33-year-old is getting more fit by the day, and that it shouldn't be too long before Bale is ready to be fully unleashed.

"Gareth's quality on the ball is clear with every touch he takes, he showed that last week as well," Cherundolo said. "So, he showed more of that tonight. He's constantly working towards getting match minutes and his fitness back, he's in week three of preseason. So, it's normal that we cannot play him from the start and he will gradually get sharper, faster, better and be more prolific."