No one in the LAFC locker room has forgotten that last year’s record-setting expansion season ended in a first-round playoff loss. Nor has anyone forgotten how painful that loss was.
Which is why no one is celebrating the team’s dominant start to the new season, one that continued Sunday with a 4-1 rout of the Portland Timbers at Banc of California Stadium.
“It’s too early to relax. And I don’t think anybody in the locker room will let each other relax,“ said forward Christian Ramirez, whose goal late in the first half proved to be the game-winner.
“We have to look at the video and see how we can get better.”
They might have to look closely given the way they routed a team that played in the MLS Cup final just three months ago. LAFC had 18 shots — 14 from inside the box — completed more than 90% of its passes in the second half, and needed goalkeeper Tyler Miller to make just one save to beat Portland for the first time in MLS play.
A week ago LAFC beat Sporting Kansas City, last season’s Western Conference champion, for the first time.
“We’re just starting,” Carlos Vela, who had a goal and two assists Sunday, said in Spanish. “We can’t get too high on ourselves. We’ve won two good games but we have things to work on.”
LAFC also got goals from Adama Diomande, his second of the season, and Mark-Anthony Kaye, who put his team in front in the 14th minute, slipping out of the grasp of defender David Guzman to head in a Vela corner kick from the edge of the six-yard box — a play the team rehearsed the day before.
Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse tied the score with a header of his own in the 29th minute, beating LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman to a long Diego Valeri free kick and ducking to nod it home. Ebobisse was struck in the face by Zimmerman’s right foot on the play and ended up with a bloody mouth.
Three minutes later LAFC sustained a blow of its own when right back Steven Beitashour, who tried to play on after taking a knock to the head, went to the locker room with what the team called “concussion-like symptoms.”
By the time Beitashour’s teammates joined him in the locker room at halftime, Ramirez had put them in front to stay, climaxing a sequence that started with Eduard Atuesta’s long pass from the Portland end, freeing Vela up the right side. The LAFC captain then cut in, eluding at least four Timbers defenders as he dribbled across the top of the penalty area before slipping the ball to Jordan Harvey on the left wing.
It was a pretty goal that showcased many of the things coach Bob Bradley preaches: playing out of the back, controlling the ball on the dribble, working it around the perimeter of the box and then finishing strongly.
“I think we’re just all bought in,” Ramirez said. “We’re growing from what we had last year. We are continuing to believe in the style of soccer that Bob wants us to play and that we’re capable of playing.
“We want to continue to grow each game.”
Diomande sealed the win 20 minutes into the second half — and two minutes after coming off the bench — tapping in a Vela feed near the far post for his second goal of the season. Vela closed the scoring in the 69th minute, taking a Diomande pass and curling it around keeper Jeff Attinella.
By the closing minutes, with Diego Chara’s expulsion leaving Portland down a man, the game had become so one-sided many in the crowd of 22,003 started doing the wave to keep themselves entertained.
The locker room, however, remained focused. The season has just started and as everyone in LAFC black and gold remembers, it’s how you finish that counts.
“You try every day to create a football environment where they see the things that we’re doing well but they continue to understand how it gets better,” Bradley said. “I’ll find enough examples in this game of little things that still need to be better.
“In a long season there’s no such thing as just a smooth ride. You get tested in different ways. We’ll keep working and training every day.”