WASHINGTON — The residue of last year’s Knockout Round playoff defeat still burns for LAFC.
That stunning loss to Real Salt Lake on the first day of November has fueled coach Bob Bradley’s men to a blistering start to the 2019 campaign, defender LAFC defender Steven Beitashour told MLSsoccer.com.
And while their 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United at Audi Field on Saturday will make them clear leaders in current opinion polling on the topic of 2019 MLS Cup favorites, Beitashour believes those memories will continue to drive his club forward for months to come.
In other words, LAFC are a team of the same mettle as the 2017 Toronto FC side Beitashour helped win MLS Cup, after the previous year's trophy slipped out of their grasp in a penalty shootout.
“It feels like 2016 with Toronto, where we got to the finals and lost,” Beitashour said after Saturday’s win. “And that hunger, that drive you could really sense it in 2017 where the guys didn’t care, win, loss or draw. It was just like a motivation, and I see that now. I look at the guys and whether it’s a tie or whether it’s a win, guys are just hungry to get to the next game.”
The win, spurred by Diego Rossi's first MLS hat trick and a goal and an assist from Carlos Vela, pushed LAFC’s goal difference to plus-14, more than double the next best in MLS. Their 16 points will have them holding no worse than a three-point lead in the early Supporters’ Shield standings.
Bradley downplayed the hype that led into this encounter against a D.C. squad that entered Week 6 as Eastern Conference leaders.
“We scored some really good goals,” he said. “Today was a choppy game. It’s not exactly a game where there’s all sorts of fluidity and everything else. The field was a bit choppy and slow. So I thought we handled it well. It’s hardly a day where we feel like we’ve arrived.”
Despite recording his seventh goal and fifth assist of the season, Vela made sure postgame that everyone remembered that Bill Hamid saved his early penalty.
And Bradley balked at the idea that it should be hard to inspire his team leading 3-0 at the break.
“The motivation is to play good football, the motivation is to play 90 minutes, the motivation is to keep making the right decisions,” he said. “I think if you went around and asked everybody on the team how they felt in those ways with the second half, I would think they would say it wasn’t our best. But you don’t want to take away from a really good team effort.”
Beitashour and Vela both accept the MLS Cup contenders label. But they’re not going to handicap anything regarding themselves or any other club as favorites.
“We don’t listen to any of that.,” Beitashour said. “We don’t say any of that. For us, we’ve got a veteran leadership group. Myself, Jordan [Harvey], Carlos, guys that have played a lot of minutes in this league or other leagues. So we know you can’t get too high off a win.”