Few Major League Soccer teams have started a season better than LAFC has started this one.
With Saturday’s 2-0 victory over FC Cincinnati on goals by Mark-Anthony Kaye and Carlos Vela, the league leaders are unbeaten, have an MLS-record 21 goals through seven games and haven’t given up a score in three weeks.
Which is all well and good, Vela said. But it’s only a start.
“The season is very long. We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he said last week. “I’d prefer to start like this than to start poorly. But to be considered a good team we have to maintain this level for 20 games. Then we could talk about something really important.”
Vela figures to have a big say in whether LAFC’s fast start is an anomaly or a preview of coming attractions. The assist on Kaye’s first-half goal was his fifth on the season, most in MLS. And his goal in second-half stoppage time was his eighth, also best in the league.
“I have more chemistry with my teammates. We know each other better. They know how I want to play,” said Vela, who has five goals and three assists in the last three games, in which LAFC has outscored it opponents 11-0. “Everything is more fluid in every way.”
Playing before an announced crowd of 22,232 at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC (6-0-1) dominated, taking a season-high 22 shots to Cincinnati’s seven. But while it threatened from the opening kickoff, LAFC didn’t find the back of the net until the 32nd minute, with Vela bending a left-footed corner kick to the edge of the six-yard box for a wide-open Kaye, who headed it in for his second goal of the season.
LAFC couldn’t add to that until stoppage time with Cincinnati (2-3-2), an expansion team, marking Vela in numbers, collapsing on him each time he touched the ball. That created opportunities for teammatesDiego Rossi and Latif Blessing, but neither could take advantage, with Rossi missing an open net in the opening minutes of each half, then curving a right-footed strike straight into the hands of Cincinnati keeper Spencer Richey late in the game.
So Vela took things into his own hands in stoppage time, fighting off Cincinnati defender Kendall Watson and dribbling deep into the penalty area on the right side before pushing the ball in with his right foot from the edge of the six-yard box.
That proved unnecessary, however. With goalkeeper Tyler Miller making a leaping one-handed save on Cincinnati’s only first-half shot, a Darren Mattocks try deep in stoppage time, and defender Jordan Harvey breaking up a dangerous chance early in the second half with a sliding challenge on Kenny Saief deep in the penalty area, LAFC posted a third straight shutout, extending Miller’s scoreless streak to 325 minutes.
“You just have to get it up for the defense and the whole team collectively because at the end of the day a shutout is a team effort,” Miller said. “And honestly the offense and the way that they’ve been playing makes it easy on the defense.”
Saturday’s game kicked off a challenging stretch that will see LAFC play three games in nine days. Coach Bob Bradley said the team wasn’t as sharp as they’d like to be.
“A good win, but we’ve still got a lot to work on,” Bradley said. “When we have a really good night and we’re fun to watch, that’s not automatic. A lot of things have to work in sync. We have to work for 95 minutes to finish a game.”