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LAFC defense shines in draw with Chicago Fire

LAFC defense shines in draw with Chicago Fire
LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman and Chicago Fire forward C.J. Sapong try to head the ball during the second half Saturday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LAFC has earned praise for its attractive, attacking offensive style of play, one that has netted a league-leading 26 goals and turned captain Carlos Vela into an MVP favorite just 11 games into the season.

The defense, meanwhile, has gone unheralded amid all that scoring. But it proved its worth Saturday, shutting out the Chicago Fire and salvaging a point in a 0-0 tie before an announced crowd of 22,151 at Banc of California Stadium.

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LAFC outshot Chicago 21-9, put five times as many shots on goal as Chicago and had the ball nearly two-thirds of the game. But it couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net, extending a drought of one score in the last 219 minutes. LAFC has failed to score in two of its last four games.

“One of the hardest things in football is finding a way to break a team down,” frustrated coach Bob Bradley said after watching the Fire cede possession and absorb pressure, keeping as many as nine players behind the ball. “It’s a long season. We still have to continue to get better.”

In the meantime, LAFC can rely on goalkeeper Tyler Miller and a tight back line, which kept the game even Saturday.

“Our focus every week is a shutout,” center back Walker Zimmerman said. “That’s what our mission is. That’s what our goal is.”

The one against Chicago (2-4-4) was the fourth of the season, most in the Western Conference. And LAFC has allowed just eight goals in 11 games, best in MLS. Miller has been stingy at home, where he never lost a regular-season game.

Not surprisingly that has helped LAFC (7-1-3) build the longest home unbeaten streak in the league, one it extended to 12.

Zimmerman, however, cautioned patience.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I don’t think we’re trying to gain awards [11] games in. We know how quickly that can change. If we slip up one game and let in three of four goals, that changes.”

Bradley liked his team’s tempo in the opening 45 minutes but LAFC’s passing was poor and just two of 10 first-half shots forced Chicago keeper David Ousted into a save. The most dangerous came in the 18th minute when Christian Ramirez took a pass from Vela and put a right-footed shot on goal from the edge of the six-yard box, only to have Ousted make the stop, one of his four saves.

Ten minutes later Jordan Harvey appeared to score off an Eduard Atuesta corner kick when his shot disappeared into a crowd that included defender Jorge Corrales and forward Nemanja Nikolic. But after the ball caromed around a bit, it ricocheted out before crossing the goal line — something referee Fotis Bazakos confirmed by consulting with the video assistant referee.

“It was just one of those nights. The ball didn’t want to go in,” Ramirez said. “If one of those chances in the first half go in, maybe we get three or four.”

At the other end, Miller faced nine shots, but only Dax McCarty’s one-timer from the top of the box in the 17th minute found its way through to the LAFC keeper. Miller was busy nonetheless, though, charging well off his line twice to clear balls — although he nearly got burned on the second play late in the first half.

With Nikolic racing straight up the field alone, Miller dashed to the end of the center circle — more than 40 yards out of the net — to meet him, slipping on the turf just before he got there. Miller managed to keep his feet under him, though, getting just enough of the ball to take it off Nikolic’s boot, preventing what would have been an easy goal for the Fire.

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