Rivalry Week

LAFC take Western Conference lead as CCL looms: "We couldn't be happier"


Can anything stop this LAFC train from rolling down the tracks? The defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield champions appear to be impenetrable to the usual pitfalls in Major League Soccer.

There’s playing across multiple competitions, especially the grueling Concacaf Champions League, which sidetracked Seattle Sounders FC’s regular season a year ago.

And then there’s injuries. The Black & Gold are down their top three center backs in Aaron Long, Jesus Murillo and Giorgio Chiellini, as well as midfielder Kellyn Acosta, yet there is no letdown from this squad. The latest example was a potentially tricky matchup against an upstart San Jose Earthquakes team as part of Rivalry Week Saturday night.

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo rotated his squad – although after the match said an upcoming El Trafico US Open Cup showdown against the LA Galaxy Tuesday night had no bearing on his lineup decisions – and that didn’t matter.

Stipe Biuk scored very early and Carlos Vela tallied very late, with the Mexican star's penalty kick in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time the decisive goal in a 2-1 win at BMO Stadium.

Vela was part of a triple substitution just past the hour mark, which also saw Timothy Tillman and Dénis Bouanga enter the match.

“I think everybody is really happy in the point and in the place we are right now, because we saw other years, teams playing different competitions at the same times and struggling most of the time,” Vela said. “And in the way we are managed – games, minutes, tiredness and everything, I think we are doing a really good job.

“The only thing we can say is like, we are really good team. I think every single player is doing his part. He's trying to help, he’s trying to be positive. When you don’t start you have to be ready to finish the game. … When you play as a team you have really more chances to be in the position we are.”

The win moved LAFC into first place in the Western Conference with 25 points (7W-1L-4D) coming from 12 matches. Their 2.08 points per game is second to just Shield-leading FC Cincinnati (2.31), an Eastern Conference team not planning for the first leg of a continental championship at the end of the month.

“As far as where we are in the league, we couldn't be happier,” Cherundolo said after the match. “Compliments to the players. They've been focused when they need to be focused. We've had very little time on the training field to work. So each minute we've had together on the pitch has been very focused and concentrated and necessary. It's been an amazingly professional environment.”

The benefactors of squad rotation and depth, LAFC are under two weeks out from facing Liga MX's Club León for a CCL title. Getting players back fit, and maintaining sharpness, are of the utmost importance. 

"Everyone is on a high level and that makes it easy on our life and job," said Vela.