The atmosphere could not have been better at Banc of California Stadium when the LAFC supporters welcomed their Austin FC adversaries in the Western Conference Finals.
For LAFC this scenario is not foreign as they lived the same exact moment three years ago: winning the Supporters Shield which granted them a bye week, beating LA Galaxy at home in conference semifinals and hosting the conference finals at home. Then, the result did not turn out to be the best; but soccer is a sport of revindication.
That opportunity came on Sunday. A victory against “Los Verdes” would allow LAFC to reach their first-ever MLS Cup final. Nonetheless, both times these two teams faced each other during the regular season Austin came down with the victory.
According to midfielder Ilie Sánchez, LAFC never lost focus before the game, as they looked to overturn the losing record against Austin. “We were so focused on performing and playing the game that we wanted to play, that I personally forgot that this was a final during the 90 minutes,” he said.
At half-time LAFC led 1-0. The opening goal came after a Carlos Vela corner that found “Chicho” Arango in the middle of the box. The Colombian striker, and LAFC’s top goalscorer this season, headed the ball to the back of the net.
In a very similar play during the 62′ minute, the Black and Gold increased their lead by two goals. Carlos Vela, once again, put a corner into play. Austin FC’s Maximiliano Urruti, who had just entered the game a minute earlier, lost track of the ball and sent it into his own goal.
“The set pieces wore us down,” said Austin FC coach Josh Wolf after the game. “(LAFC) put us under immense pressure.”
Kwadwo Opoku put an end to any hope left for Austin at the 81′, taking the ball just outside of the box and smashing it towards the bottom corner of the goal for a third and final Black and Gold score.
LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo was pleased with his team’s performance. “[It was] the best I’ve seen this year of [the players] implementing our match plan from the first minute to the end,” he said, while also assuring that they’re not settling with this victory. “What I experience in the locker room is still hunger and want for more.”
LAFC will look to put their first star on its crest next Saturday, when they receive Philadelphia Union to battle for the title.