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Soccer

LAFC faces the Dynamo with a spot in the U.S. Open Cup finals on the line

By just about any measure, Latif Blessing’s second season in MLS has been an improvement over the first one.

Blessing has already started more games, played more minutes, scored more goals and picked up more assists with the Los Angeles Football Club than he did last year with Sporting Kansas City.

There are a couple of objectives still on the table though. One is American citizenship and the other is a U.S. Open Cup title.

SKC won the tournament a year ago with Blessing scoring the first goal in the final. And to have a chance at matching that, Blessing and LAFC will have to get past the Dynamo in Wednesday’s semifinal in Houston. Chicago visits Philadelphia in the other semifinal.

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“I love the Open Cup,” Blessing said. “I believe in myself, I believe [in] my players. We’re going to bring the trophy here.”

That would be quite an accomplishment for an expansion club. The U.S. Open Cup, which dates to 1913, is the oldest soccer tournament in the country but just two MLS clubs have managed to reach the final in their first season, the Seattle Sounders in 2009 and the Chicago Fire in 1998.

Both wound up winning, with the Fire doing so under Bob Bradley, now the LAFC coach.

“Semifinals are about the mentality. We’ve got to get it right on our end,” said Bradley, whose team can expect game-time temperatures of 90 degrees and 57% humidity, which will combine for a heat index of 99 degrees.

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“It’s special that we could already be position to get to a final. For every player, the opportunity to be in finals is just something that you never stop loving.”

But it’s an opportunity LAFC will try to seize without all its players. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye is out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, forward Adama Diomande, who has a team-leading nine goals, came out of Sunday’s loss to the New York Red Bulls in the 69th minute with a hamstring injury and is doubtful for Wednesday’s match, and forward Christian Ramirez, acquired from Minnesota on Monday, is ineligible to play in Houston since he appeared in an Open Cup game with his old team.

The match, the second in four days for LAFC, also comes with the team scuffling, having gone three weeks without a win. In one of those games LAFC matched a season high by allowing five goals while in the other two the team gave up the tying or winning goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

Speaking of opportunities there’s one more Blessing, who was born in a tiny village in southeast Ghana, plans to explore soon. Midway through his second season in MLS, he says he wants to become a U.S. citizen in the hope of playing for the national team someday.

“It’s important,” said Blessing, who is 21. “My family, they wanted me to [become] an American. All my friends, my family, they say, ‘Hey, don’t come to Ghana. Just stay here and play for the U.S.’ ”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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