Bob Bradley’s Los Angeles Football Club spent much of its inaugural season trying to establish an identity. It began its second season Sunday with a victory the coach said should leave no doubt what kind of team he has.
With Adama Diomande scoring deep in stoppage time, LAFC rallied for a gutsy 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City before a sellout crowd of 22,099 at Banc of California Stadium, a signature victory that exorcised a number of demons that had haunted Bradley and his team.
“There’s a lot of parts of becoming a better team. One of the important parts is knowing how to win hard games,” Bradley said. “I don’t think we showed our best in the hardest games last year.”
He added, “In our pretty short history that is the game that we put the most into it from start to finish. It’s awesome to start the season with that kind of win.”
The victory was the first over conference rival Kansas City, the only team to beat LAFC twice last season. And in addition to avenging LAFC’s lone loss at home in 2018, it gave Bradley his first career win on his birthday.
“And that’s a lot of games,” said Bradley, 61. “To win on your birthday, it’s better than losing, that’s for sure.”
And it came on the last shot of the game, with Diomande taking the ball off the right foot of teammate Jordan Harvey, spinning away from two defenders and blasting a shot into the back of the net.
The game matched the winningest active coaches in MLS in Bradley and Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, but rather than being a battle of wits it became a bruising affair in which 10 yellow cards were issued and Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza was ejected.
It was the first match of the year that counted for LAFC but Sporting Kansas City had already played twice, beating Mexican club Toluca twice in CONCACAF Champions League play.
As a result Kansas City was the sharper team in the first half, but it needed a lucky break to take a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
LAFC, bottled up trying to get the ball out of its own end, turned it over, and Krisztian Nemeth wound up in possession about 10 yards outside the penalty area. After slipping a pass to Johnny Russell on the right flank, Nemeth charged into the center of the box to accept Russell’s soft return feed and knock it between two LAFC defenders and into the far corner of the net for his third goal in as many games.
The score remained 1-0 through a physical opening 45 minutes in which Sporting Kansas City received five yellow cards. But LAFC needed less than two minutes of the second half to pull even on a goal by Diego Rossi. After taking Eduard Atuesta’s long pass from the center circle, Rossi charged by right back Graham Zusi and into the box before bending a shot around defender Andreu Fontas and just inside the far post.
The teams combined for only two more shots on goal — one by each team — in regulation time. But for Diomande the game changed when Kansas City, playing for the second time in four days and struggling to finish out the game, went a man down when Espinoza drew his second yellow in the 84th minute.
“I was thinking ‘let’s go for it,’” said Diomande, who came off the bench in the 59th minute. “Then we got a good counterattack to Jordan. I just [snapped] it from him because I know I’m in better position … and hammered it in.”
Harvey, who hasn’t scored in two years, chided Diomande after the game, saying, “You took my goal.”
“I wanted that goal, bro,” answered Diomande, who is still working his way back to fitness after offseason hernia surgery.
The goal was Diomande’s second game-winner for LAFC, but he didn’t hesitate in calling it the most important of his MLS career. Bradley didn’t disagree.
“Tonight is positive,” the coach said. “Hopefully we can build on that.”