In one way of thinking, LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo could only be happy with Saturday night’s thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Union at Banc of California Stadium.
“Anytime you come back twice, you have to come away smiling and we do,” he said.
HIGHLIGHTS: Los Angeles Football Club vs. Philadelphia Union | May 07, 2022
In another, he very much believed it could’ve and should’ve been three points for his side in a match billed as a potential MLS Cup 2022 preview.
Kwadwo Opoku pulled LAFC level for the first time 11 minutes after halftime with his third goal of the season. Franco Escobar did so the second time with his first goal for the club, scoring in the 82nd minute after Julian Carranza had restored the visitors' lead 15 minutes earlier.
Both were deserved following sustained responses in a draw that helped LAFC increase their lead in the Supporters' Shield race to three points. Yet there was muted frustration from Cherundolo as he considered the other data aside from the final score.
His team held two-thirds of the possession and took 75% of the game’s shots on target. The hosts also won the battle of expected goals created, by a narrower 1.4 to 1.1 margin.
“It’s a clash of styles,” Cherundolo explained. “It’s always going to be difficult. I think we dealt with it fairly well. And I believe in this game if you look at the statistics it’s very clear how this game should’ve ended. And so it’s just a few moments where we fell asleep, similar to the Galaxy game. In-box defending and not expecting the unexpected inside our own box and the opponent’s box.”
The LA Galaxy game Cherundolo referenced is LAFC’s lone 2022 defeat, a 2-1 loss in which they appeared to level at the death only for a Video Review to take it away.
This was a step forward from that. Mamadou Fall nearly won it with an astounding bicycle kick attempt blocked away by center back counterpart Jakob Glesenes. And while captain Carlos Vela's scoreless run extended to eight matches, his corner also led to Escobar's leveler.
"I wasn’t counting,” Cherundolo said of Vela’s scoreless run. “I’m more concerned with performances and where he is physically and what he’s doing to help the team win. And I’m happy with that, and we are scoring goals as a team. I’m not too concerned who is scoring goals so long as we are creating chances as a group and putting ourselves in positions to win games.”
BLOCK: Jakob Glesnes clears a bicycle attempt off the line
If there was reason for concern, it might be in how Philadelphia's counter-pressing approach impacted LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez.
The former Sporting Kansas City man has been one of the Black & Gold’s best offseason additions after signing a free-agent contract. But Cherundolo cut his shift short Saturday at 74 minutes and revealed why Philly's approach might be a blueprint for others who wish to limit the Spaniard's influence.
“It’s a team that completely bypasses midfield,” Cherundolo said of the Union, who sit first in the Eastern Conference. “They don’t really combine, they don’t play. So then Ilie’s qualities and his positioning become obsolete. Because the opponent just completely bypasses him and takes him out of the game that way. … And with the ball, they were basically man-marking him, so we weren’t able to get his qualities on the field."