LAFC has already clinched a playoff berth. It could sew up the Western Conference title and the Supporters’ Shield before Labor Day.
No team in MLS history has accomplished so much so quickly. And that could pose a challenge for coach Bob Bradley: How does he keep his team sharp until its playoff opener in late October?
Relax, goalkeeper Tyler Miller cautioned. No one in the LAFC locker room is easing up just yet.
“We realize that this team is capable of so much more,” he said. “We have to focus on each game. That’s how we’re going to be able to achieve the things and win the championships that we want to win this year.”
LAFC got started on that Wednesday, riding two first-half goals from Carlos Vela to a methodical 4-0 dismantling of the San Jose Earthquakes before a sellout crowd of 22,110 at Banc of California Stadium.
“There’s no such thing as taking your foot off the gas,” said Bradley, whose team has won a season-high five in a row. “You want to win every game. You want to be a better team. You want to play great football for 90 minutes.
“Nobody says, ‘Oh, we made the playoffs. Now we can just rest.’”
Certainly not Vela, whose second goal, in the 41st minute, was perhaps the most artful of the 26 the LAFC captain has scored this year. After taking a pass from Diego Rossi and avoiding a sliding defender, Vela stepped around another defender inside the box, deked keeper Daniel Vega to the ground then dribbled around him, and when Nick Lima slid in front of the net in Vega’s place, Vela calmly walked the ball a few steps along the goal line, then used his left foot to poke the ball behind Lima at the near post.
“One really special goal,” Bradley said.
“We all want to see moments like that. You come to the game tonight and you see that goal, that’s something that stays with you. Carlos is capable of doing that kind of stuff.”
San Jose coach Matias Almeyda missed the whole thing, having been ejected, along with one of his assistants, minutes earlier for arguing with the officials.
Whatever suspense there was entering the game was gone by the sixth minute, when the long rebound of a Josh Perez one-timer caromed straight to Rossi, who put his shot inside the left post for his 14th goal of the season. Only three other players in MLS have more. Vela is one of them and the league’s scoring leader doubled LAFC’s advantage 11 minutes later, lining a penalty kick off Vega’s right hand for his seventh such goal of the season. Perez, who had a solid game in his third start of the season, closed the scoring with his first professional goal in the 81th minute.
That was more than enough for Miller, who made six saves in recording his ninth shutout of the season and third in four games — although he got a big assist from Tristan Blackmon, whose clearance off the line saved a goal in the 55th minute. For San Jose (11-10-5), loser of three in a row, it was the first time it has been held scoreless since April while the four goals are the most it has allowed since March.
For LAFC (19-3-4), the win extended its home unbeaten streak to 18 regular-season games dating to last season and increased its conference lead over Minnesota United to 19 points and its advantage over Atlanta United in the Supporters’ Shield standings to 16.
No MLS team has won either race by margins that wide. And that gives Bradley and LAFC something to aim for in their final eight games.
“There’s still things,” Bradley said “that should be better.”