On a night when the weather was nearly as punishing as the opponent, the Los Angeles Football Club may have learned more from a defeat than it would have gained from a victory.
The final score will show that LAFC lost its U.S. Open Cup semifinal to the Houston Dynamo, playing 120 minutes to a 3-3 draw before falling in an eight-round penalty-kick shootout — a result as harsh and unforgiving as the southeast Texas heat and humidity.
It was also one that wiped out a hat trick from Diego Rossi and a manic comeback from a two-goal deficit with 12 minutes to play in regulation.
But in the LAFC locker room, the positives outweighed the negatives.
“I told guys after the game I couldn’t be prouder. There’s a lot to build on,” coach Bob Bradley said. “There are teams that lose an important match on penalties and everybody gets stronger … and wait for the next moment. That’s how we’re going to handle it.”
LAFC had a chance to win the shootout in the fifth round, but Houston keeper Joe Willis dived to his left to smother a shot from Laurent Ciman that would have ended the game.
Philippe Senderos then put Houston in front three rounds later, and when Latif Blessing’s try died in Willis’ midsection, LAFC’s Open Cup was over.
The Dynamo will play the Philadelphia Union, a 3-0 winner over the Chicago Fire, in next month’s final while LAFC heads home to regroup.
“There’s a lot of positive we take from this,” said defender Steven Beitashour, one of a number of players who limped off the field with cramps. “We’ve just got to build from this. Guys dug so deep.”
Rossi gave LAFC its only lead in the sixth minute, running on to a through ball from Lee Nguyen, taking it into the box, then beating Willis with a left-footed shot. The goal was his second in four days but it wouldn’t be his last.
Andrew Wenger matched that for Houston six minutes later, using his chest to redirect in a corner kick from Adam Lundqvist. Mauro Manotas then untied it midway through the first half, losing Ciman and dashing into the penalty area alone to take a low feed from Alberth Elis and drive it into the net at the far side for his eighth goal in nine U.S. Open Cup games — and his fourth in three games this year.
Second-half substitute Memo Rodriguez appeared to put the game away in the 75th minute, scoring on a right-footer shot from the left side of the box to make it 3-1.
But Rossi wouldn’t let LAFC lose.
Three minutes later he chested down a deflected ball at the top of the six-yard box and beat Willis with a one-timer. Then, five minutes into stoppage time, on a play set up by a free kick just outside the penalty box, he tied the score with help from a long free kick from Aaron Kovar that drew Willis well off his line, leaving the goal wide open. Rossi’s header off a bounce got over three defenders and just under the crossbar.
It was his fifth score in four Open Cup games and his team-leading 12th goal in all competition. And it extended the game another 30 minutes on a night so fatiguing and punishing, LAFC keeper Tyler Miller ferried his water bottle onto the field during breaks in play to keep his defenders hydrated.
At the final whistle, a half-dozen players — including Rossi and Beitashour — dropped to the turf, exhausted and cramping. That made the shootout more a test of willpower than aim.
Yet despite the conditions, Rossi refused to call the result anything other than what it was.