It’s been a long year for LAFC. And the schedule’s not even half over.
The team, like the rest of MLS, has had its season interrupted twice by COVID-19, spent a month in quarantine in Florida, then came home and lost consecutive games for the first time in more than two years.
For a team that’s known nothing but success, it was a lot to take in.
“We haven’t had a spell like this before as a club so it’s been a little difficult,” said defender Tristan Blackmon, who called the last month a test of the team’s character.
If that’s the case, it was a test LAFC aced Wednesday, scoring four times in the second half of a 5-1 rout of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Diego Rossi scored in each half, giving him a league-leading nine on the season, while Danny Musovski closed the scoring with the first goal of his MLS career in the 83rd minute. And in between, LAFC looked nothing like the team that had stumbled to the worst seven-game start in the franchise’s young history.
”Overall, it’s a great bounce-back performance,” forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “It’s a game that we needed.
“The longer these kind of [poor] runs go on, other teams start smelling blood. And we didn’t want to be in that predicament. We all banded together as a team and just grinded it out.”
Given the team’s recent struggles coach Bob Bradley shook up his lineup, with Pablo Sisniega making his first start in goal in nearly six weeks, midfielder Latif Blessing moving to the back line and José Cifuentes getting his MLS second start in midfield. And all three moves paid off with Sisniega coming within seconds of his first shutout, Blessing settling a defense that had given up five goals in its two losses and Cifuentes scoring his first MLS goal.
“Latif really took responsibility to not only pick moments to go forward but to play right back in a disciplined way and make all the right plays defensively. That was great to see,” Bradley said.
“All in all, a good win for us.”
One that helped ease the loss of forward Carlos Vela and midfielder Eduard Atuesta, arguably the team’s two best players, who are out indefinitely with injury.
With Vela, in a pullover shirt and gray facial covering, watching from the sidelines, Rossi woke LAFC’s sputtering offense midway through the opening half, running onto a Mark-Anthony Kaye feed in the box, settling it with his second touch, then pulling up to lift a right-footed shot just past the outstretched hand of San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega and into the side netting at the far post.
A poor pass from San Jose’s Tanner Beason that went directly to Rossi at the center circle led to the second goal four minutes into the second half. Rossi quickly sent the ball forward for the aging Wright-Phillips, who won a footrace with Beason to the top of the penalty area, lost the ball briefly to Vega, then stepped neatly around the sprawled-out keeper to tap the ball into the open net with his left foot for his 112th MLS goal.
Fifteen minutes later Brian Rodriguez slipped to the turf just inside the penalty but managed to push the ball through the legs of Earthquakes’ defender Florian Jungwirth to Cifuentes, who spun toward the center of the box before finishing brilliantly for his first MLS goal.
The game was pretty much over at that point, but LAFC (3-2-3) hardly broke stride, with Rossi and Musovski adding goals to cap a second-half onslaught that saw LAFC pepper the San Jose net with seven shots, helping it jump to third place in the Western Conference standings.
Danny Hoesen scored on the last touch of the game for the Earthquakes, spoiling Sisniega’s bid for his first MLS shutout.
“I was disappointed that as a team we slipped at the end because it’s a night that it’s important still to get a shutout,” Bradley said.
It was likely the only thing he was disappointed with.