On a day in which two anticipated arrivals were the talk among the LAFC faithful, the current roster of talented Black & Gold players found a higher gear midway through the second half to dispatch the visiting New York Red Bulls, 2-0, at Banc of California Stadium.
Even with Carlos Vela partnering with Cristian Arango on the opening goal, showing the firepower of the current league leaders, Sunday's revelations opened the door to what a future with Giorgio Chiellini and Gareth Bale might look like.
HIGHLIGHTS: Los Angeles Football Club vs. New York Red Bulls | June 26, 2022
The venerable Italian defender, expected to arrive in town on Wednesday when LAFC welcome FC Dallas, could be available to debut in the July 8 edition of El Trafico against the Galaxy. But word from LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington is that the deal for the decorated Welsh international is pending, and Bale could potentially join Chiellini for the rivalry match at the Banc.
For over an hour on Sunday, a short-handed Red Bulls squad — who had to shelve both Aaron Long and Luquinhas due to the league's health and safety protocols — kept the hosts from scoring. Yet the Red Bulls' road resilience, key to their playoff form this year, faltered a mere two minutes after Arango subbed on. Vela was able to spring Arango with a pass delivered when the Colombian was just tucking onside, leading to a one-v-one situation that ended with LAFC taking the lead.
The play showed the Mexican star's value and his importance to the overall Black & Gold equation. Thorrington confirmed Sunday that the long Vela contract renewal saga is completed, characterizing LAFC and Vela as having a "phenomenal relationship," and emphasizing that he's on board with the two legends arriving.
"For Carlos and his desire to win, he sees the importance of adding these pieces — again, to help with what we already have and then to add their quality and experience as well."
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Head coach Steve Cherundolo described the match as going how they expected despite the lengthy scoreless stretch, noting that "we understood that we have the ability to change games with our bench, and we did once again. And that was the plan going into this match and it turned out that way."
After the final whistle, Ilie Sanchez spoke on the connection that Vela and Arango are developing and exhibited on what would stand as the match winner.
"When Chicho came in, in the second half, we knew that he had fresh legs. And that was something that Carlos understood perfectly," Sanchez observed. He added that the connections between all the attackers on the squad are "going to be the key for us to take advantage of the hard work that defensively we put in."
The second goal, coming three minutes after the first, came off another one-v-one isolating Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Colonel from one of those hard-working defenders. This time, it was Young Designated Player Brian Rodriguez, holding the ball at the edge of the box, waiting for an arriving Diego Palacios to get his first-ever LAFC goal to seal the win.
Cherundolo, crediting the work that Palacios has been doing, enjoyed the goal: "He's maybe growing up in front of our eyes as a player and becoming a finished player. He's now prolific in the offensive end — we knew what he could do defensively a long time ago — but adding this piece to his game, it's a real threat for us moving forward."
Palacios, humbly, credited hard work and connection with his teammates. "Thankfully, the goal came today," he observed. "I've been seeking it all season. So now I know this is the journey that I continue training, continue working hard and continue contributing to my team and hopefully we can get more goals."
But in what turned out to be an unusually popular press conference, a number of the questions were about Bale — with Thorrington and not Cherundolo fielding a question about expecting to deploy the Welsh attacker all along the Black & Gold's front three.
The head coach, asked specifically on what Bale would bring, didn't hesitate.
"What he brought to Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid," Cherundolo assessed. "Goals, assists, a constant threat attracting attention from the opposing defenders. A prolific player who knows how to win championships."