The Los Angeles Football Club will be home to open the MLS playoffs, just as it had hoped.
But if that’s the good news here’s the bad: The postseason is going to start a little earlier than expected after the team stumbled to the regular-season finish line Sunday with a 2-1 road loss against Sporting Kansas City.
Needing a win to finish atop the Western Conference standings and assure itself a first-round playoff bye, LAFC gave up a late goal to a short-handed Kansas City to wind up with little more than a consolation prize, a knockout-round game at Banc of California Stadium on Thursday.
And even that comes with a bit of a price since LAFC, which finished third in the conference table, will have just four days to prepare for the first playoff game in franchise history against well-rested Real Salt Lake. The conference’s sixth-place finisher hasn’t played since Oct. 21.
“I don’t think we were any good today, so actually I’m pretty angry,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said after his team’s second loss in 11 games. “But I also understand it’s the end of the regular season and the playoffs are coming very quickly. The focus turns immediately towards recovery and getting ready for Salt Lake.
“I don’t think we defended well. On that end, (I’m) disappointed with today’s performance and ready to get going in the playoffs.”
Outplayed in a first half in which it fell behind 1-0, LAFC got a break 15 minutes into the second half when a play involving Adama Diomande went to video review. Referee Allen Chapman ruled Kansas City’s Seth Sinovic had denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, earning a red card and giving LAFC a penalty kick.
“[Chapman] told me he saw the video and that it was 100% a hand ball,” Sinovic, who disagreed with the call, told reporters. “I know where it hit me. It hit me in the pocket of the armpit. The problem is my arm is holding the post so it looks a lot worse than it was. I think it’s harsh, that’s all I can say.”
In either case LAFC captain Carlos Vela buried the shot — driving the ball to his left while Kansas City keeper Tim Melia dove the other way — for his 14thgoal of the season to tie the score. But LAFC could make little use of the man advantage, allowing Daniel Salloi to put Kansas City in front to stay in the 72nd minute.
On the play, Salloi worked a give-and-go with forward Khiry Shelton, a sequence that started with Shelton eluding an ill-timed challenge from LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman on the right wing. Shelton then dribbled to the edge of the penalty area and sent the ball into the box for Salloi, who settled it with his right foot then used his left to boot the game-winner through three defenders and past goalkeeper Tyler Miller at the near post.
Roger Espinoza’s first-half goal, in the 37th minute, was a left-footed rocket from about 35 yards out that caught the LAFC defense on its heels and surprised Miller.
LAFC outshot Kansas City 16-8 but put just three of those on goal. Kansas City was on target with seven of its shots, forcing Miller into five saves.
Afterward Miller talked about the opportunity LAFC had lost — and the one that awaits the team Thursday.
“We knew what the stakes were coming into this game,” he said. “Our guys are good at quick turnarounds. We’ve proven that through a tough stretch of the season in August where we had six games in 19 days.”
LAFC lost three of those games, though. Another loss in the knockout-round elimination game and its season is over.
“I’m very confident that our team will be able to turn it around,” Miller said.