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LAFC gets Carlos Vela back in starting lineup and more fans in victory over Colorado

LAFC forward Diego Rossi controls the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League match Dec. 20, 2020, in Orlando, Fla.
Diego Rossi, pictured last year, scored both goals in LAFC’s 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night in front of 10,483 at Banc of California Stadium.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

By LAFC’s lofty standards, Saturday’s attendance of 10,483 was nothing special. Before COVID-19 hit, the team sold out 39 straight MLS games at Banc of California Stadium.

But the modest crowd, which filled less than half the stadium, represented a big step toward post-pandemic normalcy for the team and MLS — it was the largest for a soccer game in California since the coronavirus hit.

Carlos Vela’s return to the starting lineup for the first time in more than a month marked a return to normalcy too. Even the way LAFC played was reminiscent of old times, with a pair of first-half goals from Diego Rossi lifting it to a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids, snapping a four-game winless slide and a two-game losing streak.

Felipe Mora scored a pair of second-half goals to lead the Portland Timbers to a 3-0 victory over the Galaxy.

“Great to have a home game with fans at night,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “That was great to have more fans in the stadium. Even without it being packed, the atmosphere makes such a difference for us.”

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So does Vela. If fact, there is no better predictor of LAFC’s success than a lineup with Vela’s name in it. When he starts, LAFC is 35-10-18 in the regular season. When he doesn’t, the team is 13-13-7.

LAFC's Carlos Vela celebrates after scoring against the Galaxy on Aug. 25, 2019, file photo.
LAFC’s Carlos Vela, shown celebrating a goal in 2019, was in the starting lineup for the first time in more than a month Saturday night.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

And Vela, who is returning from a quadriceps injury, wasted little time in making his presence felt Saturday, bending a cross into the center of the box for Mark-Anthony Kaye in the eighth minute only to have Colorado keeper William Yarbrough make the save. Six minutes later Rossi put LAFC ahead to stay, using his left arm to hold off Colorado defender Keegan Rosenberry and his right foot to deflect a Corey Baird pass past Yarbrough from the center of the box.

It was LAFC’s first goal in more than 130 minutes, but it wouldn’t be the last. In the 33rd minute Vela rolled a pass to the top of the 18-yard box for Rossi, who had again escaped Rosenberry. Rossi slowed the ball with his right foot, then blasted a left-footed shot from about 12 yards over Yarbrough and under the crossbar for his third goal of the season.

Michael Barrios halved the lead for Colorado (3-2-1) on a breakaway five minutes into the second half, splitting two defenders to dash into the penalty area and tap home a through ball from Diego Rubio. But the Rapids would get no closer.

Highlights from LAFC’s 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.

Bradley, who had hoped to get 45 to 60 minutes from Vela, took his captain out just before the hour mark, pleased with what he got.

“A start, 60 minutes, that’s really important for us,” Bradley said of Vela’s longest outing of the season. “We become more fluid. Just the way he’s able to take certain balls and find a way to move inside get away from a defender. That’s really important for us.

“So he came out of it feeling good, and we’ll build on it.”

The victory lifted LAFC (2-2-2) out of the Western Conference cellar and got the team back into the win column for the first time since opening day — which, not coincidentally, was the last time Vela started.

“It was a good win. A good result for us to look at and to push into another week of training,” defender Tristan Blackmon said. “One hundred percent it’s a confidence boost. Any time you get a win, there’s a feeling in the group. And especially right now, to keep this momentum going.

“We’re a good team and we’ve shown it on many days. This definitely pushes us in the right direction. We want to use that momentum.”


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