LAFC, Atlanta United both left wanting more in "weird" game

LOS ANGELES -- It was only the half-hour mark, but to see Carlos Vela have to creep all the way back to the middle of his own half to collect the ball didn’t seem like a good sign.

Needing a response after a deflating derby defeat, LAFC were already in a hole, down 1-0 to an early Mo Adams goal to the defending 2018 MLS Cup Champions, Atlanta United.

“We’ve always said to ourselves, ‘Let’s not ever make it a back-to-back thing,’" midfielder Lee Nguyen would go on to say after the match. “That’s going to be how we respond after a loss, after a draw, whatever. Can we get back to our winning ways?”

Ultimately, Vela’s trek into his own half freed up space. It led to link-up play between Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye, who then whipped a through ball into the path of a surging Adama Diomande, who smashed the ball past Brad Guzan’s near post.

It was 1-1, then 11 minutes later it was 4-1.

“In 20 minutes, we threw away the game,” Atlanta United coach Frank De Boer said afterward.

Josef Martinez strike and an own goal would reduce the deficit to a goal, but Atlanta could not find an equalizer despite creating several quality chances. LAFC won 4-3 on the night for their first win over the Five Stripes.

“I honestly think we got bullied in the first half,” said Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel. “We couldn’t get a foot on the ball until the 35th minute. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror down 4-1, maybe they take their foot off the gas. It’s always poor starts for us in away games. That’s something we have to look at and change because you can’t win games giving up four goals on the road.”

To Nguyen and others in the LAFC dressing room, there was more at play.

“For me the mentality of this team [LAFC] is probably the most different of any team I’ve ever played on,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of teams in this league, that I’ve seen or I’ve been a part or against, where you go into every place, whether home or away and you expect to win.”

LAFC coach Bob Bradley used the word "weird" to describe a contest that saw six goals in the first half alone.

“We made it crazy at times,” said the LAFC boss. “There’s parts in there that we’re not too happy about. [It] was ridiculous in the first half to start slowly with no concentration to give up a goal right away. After 15 minutes, we really got things going well to get the 4-1. At the end of the half, we finished the same way we started the half so that was crazy. Exciting win.”

Nguyen described the evening’s result as a grind, but he felt it fit into the mentality that LAFC have developed during a season in which they've been at the top of the league from the start. 

“That’s part of this culture we’re trying to build,” Nguyen said. “You’ve seen in this league, teams start hot and come summer, there’s a drop-off. In the end, you can get streaky. You can let one loss, two losses become a thing. I think we have guys that are experienced, whether it’s our staff, our players, they’ve been in the league long enough. We can’t let ourselves get into that slippery slope. It’s how we respond and today the guys responded really well. It’s a great win against a really good team.”