LOS ANGELES — After a stunning Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs loss, a common theme emerged for LAFC on Thursday night.
This sport can be cruel at times.
“It felt like we were in control, we had a lot of good movement, a lot of good possessions, some good chances, and I don’t think we ever felt like we were going to or could lose that game,” said stunned defender Walker Zimmerman, whose inadvertent deflection led to RSL’s game-winning goal.
“At the end when the whistle blew, I think you could see on our faces just the shock of the cruelty and reality of what our situation was.”
LAFC outshot RSL 20 to 4, out-possessed them 63 percent to 37 percent, and had 10 corners to Salt Lake’s 1.
“Some nights the game is really cruel,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “It’s hard to think you can lose a game like that.”
Even during the last quarter-hour, when the score was already 3-2 and the home crowd urging them forward, the home team still looked likeliest to win the game.
“We were inches away several times. We had our foot on the gas the entire game but that’s just sometimes how cruel this game is,” said a somber Christian Ramirez, who came off the bench and scored to make it a 2-1 lead, afterward. “It took an own goal and a wonder goal to take us out.”
The Utah side became the first visitor to score three goals at LAFC’s stadium and only the second side to defeat the first-year club at home.
But the manner in which they were denied victory made LAFC feel cursed on the night.
As brightly as the home crowd shined at times on Thursday — indeed, the way it has all season — the evening was darkened by issues in the stands.
On several occasions, projectiles were hurled toward RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando in both halves and a derogatory chant was directed at him when he took goal kicks in the second half.
Referee Mark Geiger even paused the game at one point due to the debris entering the field and threatened to suspend the match should the behavior continue.
“Tonight, some of that, we don’t need,” said Bradley. “There was a really good discussion immediately after the first game, when maybe a chant happened, and that got taken care of immediately and that was finished for the rest of the year.”
Though the chant reared its head again Thursday, Bradley was confident LAFC and all fans and supporters will be able to eliminate the issues going forward.
LAFC and independent supporters union The 3252 released a joint statement on Friday condemning the chant at the game.
On a big night, when his team played reasonably well, didn’t give away big, easy chances and reacted well during almost every moment when they did lose the ball, Bradley admitted that results like Thursday’s are still “awfully hard to figure.”
But the LAFC boss reasserted his belief in the effectiveness of his chosen attack-heavy playing style, something he and his players believed was good enough to win MLS Cup this season despite being knocked out so early.
“It’s a project to continue to have a way of playing and an identity and a philosophy that we believe in, that produces good football, that can win,” the coach said. “It’s not a one-year project.”