By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jun 13, 2019) US Soccer Players – With MLS shutting down for the Concacaf Gold Cup, its teams are still involved in meaningful matches. The US Open Cup kicked off the fourth round this week as MLS teams entered play. This presents an opportunity for one of LA’s MLS teams to step up and take on the challenge of winning a trophy.
LAFC and the LA Galaxy are in a battle for Western Conference supremacy. It’s a fight that LAFC is in control of, but the domestic cup is different.
The Open Cup might be secondary in terms of the overall picture throughout the year, but it has meaning for both LAFC and the Galaxy. Los Angeles soccer needs a championship, needs a soccer champion, and needs participation in international play once more. All of that can come through the US Open Cup.
Both teams took the necessary step, winning in the fourth round. LAFC shutout Real Salt Lake 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday and the Galaxy beat Orange County SC by the same score on Wednesday at Dignity Health Sports Park’s Track and Field Stadium.
For either LA team, winning a trophy would be a grand accomplishment. The LA Galaxy won an Open Cup before winning an MLS Cup. The club’s MLS Cup run in 2005 was made even more special because it had won the Open Cup as well along the way.
LAFC didn’t exist prior to 2018, so winning a trophy of any kind would be a good start for the club. Think of it as momentum in a season where LAFC is the strongest team in MLS. They lead the Supporters’ Shield race, six points clear of 2nd-place Philadelphia Union and nine points ahead of the Galaxy, who sit in second in the Western Conference table.
With such a good thing going in league, it seemed reasonable to wonder how much LAFC would invest in the Open Cup. It is not uncommon after all for MLS teams to field reserves and youngsters and keep the focus on league play.
Any doubts about that ended before LAFC took the field against RSL. Regulars such as Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, and Latif Blessing started. What made LAFC even more imposing, and perhaps what shows how everything is going the club’s way this season, was the contribution from other players. Vela scored, which is no surprise as he leads MLS with 16 goals. Lee Nguyen also started and played 88 minutes. It’s the most he’s played since March 10, scoring his first goal of the year. Also, Rodolfo Zelaya made his club debut, replacing Nguyen near the end. All Zelaya did was rattle a free kick off the post which Adame Diomande tucked into the back of the net for LAFC’s final goal in its 3-0 win.
Backup goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega made his debut with the team and came up with a massive save to keep the game 1-0, several minutes before Nguyen’s goal put the game out of reach. Center back Danilo Silva, who has played just three games in the league this year, stepped alongside regular Eddie Segura and helped keep a clean sheet.
LAFC showed its depth. Four players are on Gold Cup duty. The team still flexed its muscle and rolled over a solid and determined opponent.
The Galaxy meanwhile has much to play for. They haven’t played in the Concacaf Champions League since the 2015-16 edition, losing to Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals. That was the beginning of a decline for the Galaxy, who crashed out of the MLS Cup playoffs in the knockout round and then finished in last place in 2017. As the club has re-established itself in the league this year, the focus must also be to regain its footing abroad.
That started with the Open Cup shutout of Orange County SC. With the Galaxy the heavy favorites, Efrain Alvarz scored twice and Emil Cuello got a goal in a game they dominated. The Galaxy took 24 shots to Orange County’s 6, putting 8 on goal to their 2.
The round of 16 draw was kind to both teams for one reason, they’re not playing each other yet. LAFC hosts San Jose while the Galaxy travels to Portland. This is still the US Open Cup, and it’s an equally open question what the lineups might look like. What we do know is the winners will play each other in the semifinals. That’s the game LA should want, their two teams facing off for a spot in the final.
LA is trying to become the center of the MLS universe. With LAFC leading the Supporters’ Shield race and dominating the league and the Galaxy back in contention and featuring an all-world player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic for good measure, LA is more than relevant. An Open Cup win and international competition needs to follow.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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