LAFC concluded group play for the MLS Is Back tournament Thursday night, tying with the Portland Timbers 2-2 in the third and final group play match. After Thursday night’s result, LAFC finished second in Group F with five points.
The Black and Gold entered the game with an injury setback, as forward Adama Diomande had to leave the bubble due to a nagging foot injury. Diomande has however stated that the injury is not serious and his exit was a mere precaution. Because Diomande left the bubble, he will not play the rest of the tournament.
LAFC made a couple of lineup adjustments coming into this game, as midfielder Latif Blessing was moved to the defensive line at the right-back position. Starting in Blessing’s normal spot was midfielder Francisco Ginella. Defender Tristan Blackmon started in place of fellow defender Dejan Jakovic at the center back position, who has struggled all tournament long.
The match was expected to be tight and physical. Although the history between the teams has been short, they have a well-documented tumultuous relationship from the time Diomande accused Portland players of using a racial slur toward him in 2018.
The teams committed a total of 25 fouls Thursday, with 15 attributed to Portland
LAFC once again struggled in the first half, as Portland striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda ran past Black and Gold defenders to score the opening goal in the seventh minute. LAFC’s defense has struggled throughout this whole tournament, particularly in the first 45 minutes of the game.
The Black and Gold did not play from behind for long, however, as forward Bradley Wright-Philipps shot a laser strike into the netting from just outside the penalty box to tie the game up at 1-1 in the 36th minute. Things got even better for LAFC four minutes later, when midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye gave the team the lead off a header from a corner kick to put the score at 2-1.
Thursday night’s performance was significant for Kaye, who has struggled to adjust since the beginning of the tournament after four months off.
LAFC used this momentum to control the game for most of the second half. In the end, LAFC held 60% of the game’s possession and outshot the Timbers 19-7.
LAFC’s momentum, however, ran out in the 81st minute when Portland striker Jeremy Ebobisse scored off a header, tying the game at two goals apiece.
“Hate to give up a late goal,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley after the game. “Failure to clear a couple of balls and some poor organization on the corner … In most of the second half, I thought we had control … We showed a little bit of fatigue and when we made some changes … that’s when we let ourselves down.”
That final goal kept LAFC from winning the group. The Black and Gold are set to play defending the MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders, who finished second in Group B, in the Round of 16. Seattle also eliminated LAFC last season when the two teams met in the Western Conference Final.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to play Seattle considering what happened last year,”
Kaye said in the postgame interview. “Again, we don’t focus too much on who we’re playing really, we are just excited to have another opportunity to play our football.”
The Round of 16 matchup between LAFC and Seattle Sounders is slated for July 27 at 8 p.m. PST. With the memory of last season’s exit, the pressure will be on the Black and Gold to get the win.