LOS ANGELES — Entering the final half hour of Thursday night’s U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 contest between LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes at Banc of California Stadium, Cristian Espinoza recovered from a Latif Blessing tackle to find an open window to shoot on goal.
The Quakes’ attacker let fly only to find his attempt blocked and snatched up in one brilliant sequence by Black & Gold keeper Pablo Sisniega.
“I’ve known Pablo from Spain,” said LAFC captain Carlos Vela, who played with Sisniega at Real Sociedad. “I know how good he is. It’s not a surprise for me.”
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The Mexican goalkeeper, filling in for Tyler Miller, who is with the USMNT at the Concacaf Gold Cup, didn’t disappoint. In fact, he had several other big saves in LAFC’s 3-1 victory over their Northern California rivals.
Already leading in the Supporters’ Shield race, and early favorites for MLS Cup, the win leaves LAFC firmly running for all the silverware available to them in 2019.
“Every day what the staff tries to push onto us is that we’re a team who has to win,” said Sisniega after the match, putting the treble push into a dressing room context. “Opting for those three trophies still is what keeps us going and our mentality is that we want to win everything.”
For coach Bob Bradley, who spoke highly of Sisniega’s performance — and knows what it takes to win multiple trophies in MLS after the league and USOC double with the Chicago Fire during their inaugural season in 1998 — the push for trophies at this phase of the season has been made somewhat easier by their fixture list.
“We’ve tried to put the best team that we can on the field,” Bradley said. “The schedule worked in our favor for that. This weird June schedule where we had a league match in the beginning and then the one with Colorado coming up so, as it turned out, these two matches helped us keep going.”
Like other MLS teams with players involved in international competitions this summer, not only have LAFC’s had to stay sharp during the break, which is slightly longer than other teams, but their go-for-it-all approach has required fringe players like Sisniega and Tristan Blackmon, who played a key role in assisting Vela for LAFC’s third goal, to step up.
The squad commitment is such that even LAFC’s players on international duty are pitching in to keep the team cohesively motivated in their push for silverware.
“Tyler [Miller] is a really good guy, we have a great relationship, he texted me after last game and he texted me after this game to congratulate me,” said Sisniega who along with Bradley, spoke highly of goalkeeper coach Zak Abdel’s guidance for the depth LAFC have in goal.
Sisniega, was stunning in only his second game in an LAFC jersey following a 3-0 road victory over Real Salt Lake in the fourth round and his second professional action since a frightening October 27, 2018 injury.
Thursday was also his first in front of LAFC’s raucous home crowd — a noisy 14,000 for a Thursday night U.S. Open Cup Game on short notice — and they sang Sisniega’s name following his Man of The Match performance as time wound down.
While Vela, Rossi and Diomande are a few of the marquee names, if LAFC are going to continue pushing for multiple trophies, others will have to follow Sisniega’s lead.
“In the end, we want to involve everybody,” said Vela, who now has 18 goals in 18 games across all competitions. “We’re a team and we need the whole squad to be the best team in this league.”