The Los Angeles Football Club was born amid hype and expectation in a small Hollywood movie studio four years ago this week. And on Thursday its first Major League Soccer season ended in frustration and disappointment, with Real Salt Lake scoring two unanswered goals for a 3-2 playoff victory that was repeatedly interrupted by fans throwing debris on the field.
In the final minutes the angry sellout crowd of 22,000 also loudly revived a homophobic chant that hadn’t been heard at Banc of California Stadium since LAFC’s home opener.
It was an inglorious end to what had been a glorious season, one that saw LAFC set a record for a first-year team by earning 57 points while becoming only the fifth expansion club to reach the playoffs. But despite outshooting RSL 21-4 and controlling the ball nearly two-thirds of the game, LAFC’s postseason stay was a short one, ending in the unforgiving one-game knockout stage of the MLS postseason.
“It’s hard to think you can lose a game like that,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley, who thought his team had a shot at a title. “Three shots, three goals. It’s awfully hard to figure out.”
Added goalkeeper Tyler Miller: “I don’t think we ever felt that we would lose that game. Or that we could lose that game.”
LAFC’s goals came from Danilo Silva in the first half and Christian Ramirez in the second. Croatian forward Damir Kreilach had two goals for Salt Lake, one in each half, then helped set up the game-winner, which ricocheted in off LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman for an own goal. It was the eighth time LAFC let a second-half lead get away this year, and this time it ended the team’s season.
When the final whistle sounded several LAFC players dropped their heads in disbelief while their opponents, who slipped into the playoffs thanks to a Galaxy loss Sunday, danced around them, celebrating their second win since Sept. 2. Salt Lake goes on to play Sporting Kansas City, the top seed, in the two-leg Western Conference semifinals beginning Sunday.
LAFC dominated the early going but keeper Nick Rimando stopped the only two shots he saw in the first half hour, clutching a Diego Rossi shot to his chest, then redirecting another over the crossbar. That allowed Salt Lake to go ahead in the 21st minute, turning a play that appeared to be going nowhere into a goal.
The sequence began with defender Brooks Lennon running down a ball a step from the end line in the right corner, spinning quickly and flicking a low right-footed cross into the penalty area toward Kreilach. Silva leaped at the ball but mistimed his jump, allowing Kreilach to chest the ball down before one-hopping a shot just inside the left post.
Silva made up for the mistake 10 minutes later, heading in a Carlos Vela free kick to tie the score, then celebrating by leaping into the first row of the supporter’s section behind the Salt Lake goal. Fans in that section also celebrated by throwing debris on the field for a second time in the first half, leading to a three-minute stoppage in play and a warning from the public-address announcer that the match could be suspended.
“We had to stop the game for things being thrown?” Salt Lake coach Mike Petke said. “That’s a new one for me.”
Said LAFC’s Ramirez: “I hope that’s the first and last time that happens.”
A third warning was made just after intermission, this time threatening arrest for anyone caught throwing objects on the field.
Shortly after the soccer resumed, Ramirez, a second-half substitute playing multiple minutes for the first time in more than a month, put LAFC ahead, timing his run after a Lee Nguyen through ball perfectly, settling it just as he entered the penalty area, then booming a left-footed into the top of the net.
Four minutes later a poor clearance attempt by Silva sent the ball right to Kreilach, whose leaping shot from just outside the box beat Miller cleanly to tie the score. Kreilach then set up the go-ahead goal, slipping a pass out to the right edge of the penalty area for Jefferson Savarino, whose shot deflected in off Zimmerman’s face, leaving Miller helpless.
A bouncing try from Vela died in Rimando’s gloved hands in the 89th minute and Jordan Harvey’s header failed at the end of stoppage time. Moments later, debris rained down on the Salt Lake goal again, this time from the south end zone, sending Rimando scurrying for cover as a number of LAFC players waved for the crowd to stop.
“It’s a crazy game sometimes. And obviously bounces go the wrong way sometimes,” Miller said.
“It will be tough to digest, but I’m really proud of year one and the chemistry that developed over that first season.”