Soccer newsletter: LAFC refuses to blame refs, chases home-field edge in playoffs

LAFC forward Cristian Arango points up while running next to midfielder Kellyn Acosta
LAFC forward Cristian Arango, left, points up while running next to midfielder Kellyn Acosta. The team is battling for home-field advantage in the MLS playoffs.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)
Share via

Hello, and welcome to the weekly L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, The Times’ soccer writer, and today we look at the Galaxy getting penalized from the penalty spot, Angel City’s late playoff push and the changing makeup of the Mexican women’s national team.

But we start with LAFC. The team’s late-season troubles in Texas continued Saturday with a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on a pair of late goals by Jesús Ferreira.

A little more than three weeks ago, LAFC became the first team to clinch an MLS playoff berth, had a comfortable lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings and was chasing the league record for points in a season. Since then, the team has gone on its worst slide in 13 months, losing four times in five games, with three of those losses coming in Texas. And that has dropped it three points behind Philadelphia in the Supporters’ Shield race, leaving the points record out of reach.


As a result, LAFC (19-8-3) has just one regular-season goal remaining: finishing atop the Western Conference standings and securing home-field advantage in the postseason. LAFC, a conference-best 12-1-2 at home and 7-7-1 on the road, can do that Tuesday with a win at Minnesota United. An Austin loss to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday also would assure LAFC home-field advantage leading up to MLS Cup.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Saturday’s loss in the heat and humidity in Frisco, Texas, was a gut punch for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the standings. Whatever game plan coach Steve Cherundolo had for Dallas went out the window in the 13th minute when LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead, returning to a stadium in which he starred for eight seasons, was sent off for upending Paul Arriola on the edge of the penalty area on a breakaway. Referee Jon Freemon originally gave Hollingshead a yellow card, but after a lengthy VAR review, he changed it to a red, the first of Hollingshead’s career. That left LAFC to play the rest of the game short-handed.

Despite that, LAFC took the lead four minutes into first-half stoppage time on Cristian Arango’s 16th goal of season, one set up by a marvelous through ball that earned Giorgio Chiellini his first MLS assist.

But a pair of crucial errors allowed Ferreira to score goals three minutes apart late in the game. The first came in the 78th minute when defender Franco Escobar was called for a foul while wrestling Marco Farfan for a ball on the edge of the penalty area. An angry Escobar protested the call, and, as he was led away, he and teammate Jesús Murillo turned their backs on the play, allowing Arriola to restart quickly with a pass to Ferreira, whose shot from close range startled LAFC.

Freemon allowed the goal to stand.

Minutes later, Nanú won a free kick on the edge of the 18-yard box and Ferreira scored from a tough angle for his 18th goal of the season.

“It was two set pieces that changed the game,” Cherundolo said. “And two set pieces where our demeanor and our discipline was not there. Turning your back on the ball that deep in your own half and not paying attention, being preoccupied with the referee, is certainly a good way to concede a goal.

“That’s what’s most disappointing tonight. In those key moments, we defeated ourselves. That’s the lesson that we need to learn tonight.”

LAFC's Carlos Vela plays against Nashville SC on July 17, 2022, in Nashville.
LAFC’s Carlos Vela plays against Nashville SC on July 17 in Nashville.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

LAFC clearly was unhappy with the officiating, but neither Cherundolo nor his players blamed the result on Freemon.

“I don’t focus on what the official does and doesn’t do,” captain Carlos Vela said in Spanish. “What we can do is focus on looking at what we can do better and we can correct and not think about the referee or the crowd or the stadium or the field.”

Added midfielder Kellyn Acosta: “At the end of the day, the result is on us. The ref didn’t have his best game. But collectively it was a lapse in concentration on two of the goals. Playing 75 minutes down a man is tough.

“Obviously, we have a sour taste in our mouth. We have to flush this game out of our system.”

MLS Supporters’ Shield standings

Team Pts. W L T GF GA GR@

Philadelphia-x 63 18 4 9 68 22 3

LAFC-x 60 19 8 3 60 34 4


Montreal-x 53 16 9 5 55 47 4

Austin 51 15 9 6 60 45 4

Red Bulls 50 14 9 8 47 37 3

Dallas 49 13 8 10 45 34 3

x- clinched playoff berth

@ - games remaining

Long unbeaten streak doesn’t lift Galaxy

Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig dribbles next to Seattle Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva.
Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig dribbles next to Seattle Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva on Aug. 19 in Carson. The match ended in a 3-3 draw.
(Raul Romero Jr. / Associated Press)

While a poor month has brought LAFC back to the pack, the Galaxy have put together a six-game unbeaten streak, their longest since 2019. Nonetheless, they have fallen below the Western Conference playoff line.

When the Galaxy started their streak with a win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 13, they were sixth in the table, just two points out of fourth. They haven’t lost since, yet Tuesday they woke up in eighth place, three points out of a playoff spot and just a point ahead of ninth-place Seattle — worse off than when they started.

Still, they’re lucky to be where they are, with Riqui Puig’s penalty kick nine minutes into stoppage time Saturday rescuing a point in a 1-1 draw at Nashville. It was the latest game-tying goal in Galaxy history and just the second in the 95th minute or later in the club’s 27-year history.

It also came only after a lengthy VAR review convinced referee Chris Penso that Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman was guilty of a handball in the dying seconds, setting up the penalty kick.

“We had to battle down to the end to get a point,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “But it’s an important point.”

Nashville’s only goal also came on a penalty kick, by Hany Mukhtar in the 28th minute, after Galaxy center back Derrick Williams was called for a handball.

The Galaxy can go back above the playoff line on a tiebreaker Wednesday with a win at Vancouver and a Real Salt Lake loss in Austin. The Galaxy (11-11-7) also have a game in hand against every other team in playoff contention. But they have some things to fix to make that matter.

Galaxy midfielder Samuel Grandsir celebrates with forward Javier Hernández.
Galaxy midfielder Samuel Grandsir, center, celebrates with forward Javier Hernández, left, during a match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 13 in Carson.
(Raul Romero Jr. / Associated Press)

The Galaxy have given up leads three times in their six-game unbeaten streak and settled for draws each time. And they have Pique to thank for the final two points. The midfielder has made four starts since arriving from Barcelona last month and has had a goal or an assist in all four. Both goals, coming in the 89th minute or later, have salvaged draws.

“He’s definitely been a big reason for why results have been a little bit better for us,” goalkeeper Jonathan Bond said of Puig, who hasn’t played in a losing game in MLS. “He’s been an important player for us for sure.”

He demonstrated more than just skill Saturday. After Javier “Chicharito” Hernández was stopped on a penalty try in the 55th minute — the second time that has happened in as many games — Puig was taking no chance of it happening again in stoppage time. When Penso stepped to the sideline to look at a video review of the handball, Puig grabbed the ball and stepped to the spot to wait.

“I don’t think there was any chance anyone was taking it out of his hands,” Vanney said. “He wanted it. He’s a winner. We’ve seen that since he’s been here.”

Hernández may not get another chance. He’s the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals, but his two misses from the spot in the last two weeks have cost the Galaxy four points in the standings. Puig, meanwhile, has become the missing link for a team lacking consistency and confidence.

Who takes penalties the rest of the season seems like a no-brainer, although Vanney wouldn’t say that Saturday.


“In terms of how we manage them going forward, that will be determined,” he said.

Hernández has taken nine penalty tries since coming to MLS in 2020 and converted just four; according to the stats service OptaJack. Of the 84 MLS players to attempt at least six PKs since the start of the 2010 season, no one has a lower conversion rate than Chicharito, who has missed three of six tries this year.

Hernández has made 10 of 22 spot kicks in his career, including two of four attempts for the Mexican national team, a conversion rate of 45%.

“I took penalty kicks for the Galaxy for a number of years,” Vanney said. “For me, penalties is as much a mental game as it is a technical game or anything else.”

“It wasn’t a horrible shot,” he added of Hernández’s try. “He put it in a decent spot. The keeper was all over it in terms of his guess and going hard.”

The Galaxy outshot Nashville 22-10 and put eight shots on target — three by Puig — but Nashville keeper Joe Willis made seven saves, including the one on the Hernández PK.

“We had more possession, we had more chances. We could have very easily won this game,” Vanney said. “And we didn’t finish it in the end.”

Well, until the end at least, with Puig rescuing the team again with his final touch.

“It was an important point,” Bond said. “We dominated the game. It’s six unbeaten. We’re kind of finding the form at the right time.


“We’d like to be maybe in a different spot, but we’re not in a bad one.”

MLS Western Conference standings

Team Pts. W L T GF GA GR@

LAFC 60 19 8 3 60 34 4

Austin 51 15 9 6 60 45 4

Dallas 49 13 8 10 45 34 3

Nashville 46 12 9 10 49 38 3

Portland 45 11 8 12 50 47 3

Minnesota 44 13 12 5 44 44 4

Salt Lake 43 11 9 10 38 38 4


(playoff line)

Galaxy 40 11 11 7 47 43 5

Seattle 39 12 15 3 43 40 4

Colorado 36 9 12 9 41 51 4

Vancouver 34 9 14 7 33 54 4

Kansas City 31 8 15 7 33 51 3

Houston 30 8 16 6 38 48 4

San Jose 30 7 13 9 44 61 5

@ - games remaining

Tough road ahead for Angel City

Angel City FC's Simone Charley and the Portland Thorns' Raquel Rodríguez head the ball.
Angel City FC’s Simone Charley and the Portland Thorns’ Raquel Rodríguez head the ball during the NWSL Challenge Cup at Titan Stadium in Fullerton.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

Speaking of playoff races, Angel City’s gutty 1-1 draw in Houston on Sunday ran the expansion team’s unbeaten streak to five games, but it also left the team a point below the National Women’s Soccer League playoff line with five games to play. Like the Galaxy, Angel City favorably has a game in hand on its closest rivals.

Angel City (7-5-5) has lost just one of eight matches since July 1, but four of those games have ended in draws, with Angel City giving away the lead in the final minutes of regulation or stoppage time on three occasions. Those six dropped points are now the difference between seventh place and a share of the NWSL lead.


On Sunday, Angel City found itself chasing the game after María Sánchez gave the Dash a 1-0 lead in the 43rd minute. Simone Charley matched that four minutes into the second half by tapping home the rebound of her own shot, which had been saved by Houston keeper Jane Campbell. The goal was Charley’s first in regular-season play with Angel City.

But it was the 11th time in 17 games that Angel City has scored one goal or none. The team has 20 on the season; only two NWSL teams have fewer.

Charley said the fact the team has had to grind out so many results will help it down the stretch.

“We have the confidence and the ability to make the playoffs,” she said. “For us, it’s about being ourselves for the rest of the season. We don’t have to be something we’re not or anything extra. We literally just have to be ourselves and we can make the playoffs.”

The road ahead isn’t easy, though. Angel City plays just two of its final five games at home — where its four wins are tied for second best in the league — and finishes on the road against the Chicago Red Stars, the team occupying the sixth and final playoff berth.

NWSL standings

Team Pts. W L T GF GA GR@

Kansas City 32 9 4 5 25 23 4

Portland 31 8 3 7 39 20 4

San Diego 31 9 6 4 29 19 4

Houston 30 8 5 6 32 24 3

OL Reign 28 7 4 7 24 18 4

Chicago 27 7 5 6 28 24 4
(playoff line)

Angel City 26 7 5 5 20 19 5


N. Carolina 22 6 7 4 38 31 5

Orlando 21 5 7 6 20 35 4

Washington 16 2 6 10 22 26 4

Louisville 14 2 8 8 17 31 4

Gotham 12 4 14 0 13 37 4

Mexican women at last playing for the home team

The last time Mexico played in a Women’s World Cup, in 2015, half of the 24 women on the roster were born in the United States, including nine in California. Eleven played on U.S. club or college teams.

The squad interim coach Christopher Cuéllar called in for this month’s two friendlies in Southern California had just five U.S.-born players. And 15 of the 20 women on the team played for club teams in Mexico’s domestic Liga MX Femenil.

Mexico's Scarlett Camberos chases the ball during a match against Angel City FC.
Mexico’s Scarlett Camberos chases the ball in front of Angel City FC’s Clarisse Le Bihan during the Copa Angelina 2022 at Banc of California Stadium on Sept. 5.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The change speaks to both the development of women’s soccer in Mexico and the improvement, in just five years, of the Liga MX Femenil. The recruiting focus has changed so much, in fact, that San Diego-born forward Scarlett Camberos, who starred at UC Irvine, didn’t believe she would get noticed by the Mexican federation unless she played there.

“One of the reasons why I joined Liga MX was to be seen by the national team,” said Camberos, who signed with Club América in December and scored her first international goal in her second appearance in a 2-0 win over Angel City last week. “It was a great move for me.”

Yon de Luisa, president of Mexico’s soccer federation, has helped drive some of that change by signing New York-based Soccer United Marketing to help promote the women’s team and organize exhibition tours of the United States, as it has done for the men’s team. For proof of just how serious the federation is about making the women’s better, consider that when Mexico bowed out of the CONCACAF W Championship in group play this summer, failing to qualify for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics, De Luisa fired two of the top three coaches in the women’s program and hired former Mexican international Andrea Rodebaugh as the first director general of the national team.


“That’s the way that we are bringing the importance that the women’s program truly has,” he said. “We need a person that is fully dedicated to the women’s strategy, implementation, problems, everything that is going on there.

“There’s many things that they have been done better, year by year. But we prove[d] in the last CONCACAF W tournament that there are still many things to be done. And that’s why we feel that the new structure will help us achieve these objectives.”

The only time Mexico beat the United States, in 2010, some of the players acknowledged they found it tough not to sing the Star-Spangled Banner before the game. They didn’t know the words to the Mexican national anthem, and some players even had to write basic Spanish-language phrases on their arms in magic marker to communicate with their teammates.

Those days are gone, said Carmelina Moscato, a former Canadian international who played in the NWSL and now coaches Tigres Femenil, Mexico’s most successful women’s club.

“This league was built for Mexicans by Mexicans,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s to strengthen the Mexican system.”

And finally, there’s this …

Supporters of the Orange County Soccer Club are expected to pack the council chambers Tuesday afternoon when the Irvine City Council takes up the team’s request to continue playing at Championship Soccer Stadium in the Orange County Great Park. The reigning champions in the second-tier USL Championship have played in the 5,000-seat stadium since 2017, but the Galaxy have expressed interest in having their MSL Next Pro team play in Irvine next season and have asked for exclusive professional soccer rights to the stadium. That would evict the Golden State Force and Cal United Strikers of the third-tier NISA in addition to OCSC, which paid more than $195,000 for priority use of the stadium this season, according to the city. The team’s memorandum of understanding with the city comes up for renewal in November. It is due to roll over for two more seasons, but the club said it has been told the city can’t guarantee it will be able to play there in 2023. … LAFC’s Gareth Bale, who made his MLS debut in July, already has the top-selling jersey in the league, according to Christian Fuchs of first-year club Charlotte FC is second, followed by LAFC’s Vela and the Galaxy’s Chicharito. Atlanta’s Josef Martínez rounds out the top five. The Galaxy’s Douglas Costa ranked 24th in jersey sales. … Cádiz goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma was credited with the biggest save of his career Saturday when he helped save the life of a fan who suffered cardiac arrest during a La Liga game against Barcelona. In the 81st minute, after a man in the stands behind Cádiz’s goal collapsed, Ledesma raced to the dugout to retrieve a medical kit with a defibrillator, then sprinted back to the stands to throw the kit to the medical staff. The fan, a Cádiz season-ticket holder, was taken to a hospital, where he was reportedly in stable condition. The game resumed after a 55-minute delay, and Barcelona thanked Ledesma for his quick thinking by putting two more shots past him in a 4-0 win.


In case you missed it

Simone Charley scores in Angel City’s 1-1 draw with Houston

LAFC’s Lone Star State woes continue in loss to FC Dallas

Riqui Puig scores in stoppage time as Galaxy salvage draw with Nashville


Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.


“None of us have a whistle in our hand and a badge on our chest. So it’s a waste of time to discuss and to argue.”

LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo, declining to talk about the officiating after his team’s loss in Dallas on Saturday


Until next time...

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I’ll come right to your inbox. Something else you’d like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @kbaxter11.