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LAFC disappointed with 1-1 finish against Dallas, despite Nguyen debut

May 5, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view as Los Angeles FC midfielder Benny Feilhaber (33) shoots on goal against FC Dallas during the first half at Banc of California Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Inches kept Los Angeles FC from its second-straight home victory Saturday. The expansion team finished a scorching game, highlighted by wide-open shots and missed opportunities, with a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas at Banc of California Stadium.

It was LAFC’s first one-point finish of the season.

With the temperature rising into the upper 80s throughout the afternoon, players were forced to seek refuge in the shade during hydration breaks as fans sweat through their black and gold jerseys. On another day, perhaps, the weather might have slowed the pace of play. But LAFC exploded out of the gates and refused to become sluggish even as the game wore on.

The team quickly benefited from its aggression, notching a goal in the 9th minute to take an early lead. Diego Rossi set up the play, slipping a nifty ball to nutmeg a defender and give Steven Beitashour a wide-open path to slot the ball past the keeper and into the net.

It had been five seasons since Beitashour notched a score, but the play was one he discussed with Rossi in the week leading up to the Dallas match. In practice, Rossi promised he would feed Beitashour a shot in the box. When that look came, the defender seized his moment.

“It’s about making a good pass,” Beitashour said. “Diego’s pass was perfectly in stride. I was fortunate that my touch led to goal and I had the whole side to aim at and I was able to finish.”

After Beitashour put the team on the board, it should have been an easy walk to a win for LAFC. The stat sheet revealed a commanding performance by the home squad, much more dominant than reflected in the 1-1 score. LAFC possessed the ball for 63.8 percent of the game, controlling play for almost 70 percent of the second half. The team took 15 shots, 12 of which came in the box, and doubled Dallas’ numbers in corner kicks.

But instead, the squad began to lose its grip on finishing in its attacking third. Mark-Anthony Kaye set up Carlos Vela for a shot on the near post, but he lost his balance and sent the ball out of bounds. Eduard Atuesta found Rossi wide open on the backside, but the midfielder completely whiffed the strike and Atuesta fired the rebounding ball six feet above the crossbar.

 

The missed opportunities earned groans of despair from the crowd, and the team closed the first half with only one goal when it could have had three or four. This clinching difficulty only continued into the second half, as the team missed four straight shots wide of the post.

“Overall, we have good starts,” head coach Bob Bradley said. “In the first half we scored a really good goal, but the reminder at half time was that it’s only 1-0. Now there’s this whole part of ‘how do you finish games?’ Our pure ability to control the game because we’re better with the ball … and then we lose it … That would be the area where I felt like we weren’t good enough and we then paid the price.”

Meanwhile, Dallas continued to counter, forcing keeper Tyler Miller to create acrobatic saves to protect his goal. Dallas almost found the net in the first half with a tricky chip that sent captain Laurent Ciman flying to slide and kick the ball inches off the goal line. The defense finally broke in the 55th minute when Maximiliano Urruti’s sizzling strike from outside the box flew just past Miller’s gloves.

As LAFC continued to stumble in the second half, the introduction of newly-allocated midfielder Lee Nguyen added a necessary spark to the team’s attack. As he stretched on the sidelines in his newly-minted No. 24 jersey, the stadium roared to life, trading chants as supporters welcomed their newest player.

“It’s a great group of guys here, everyone here has a high soccer IQ and [they’re] very talented on the ball,” Nguyen said. “[They] play with the style that I want to play, so for me, sliding me in and playing toe for toe with these guys — it won’t take long for me, Diego and Carlos to get on the same page. I’m excited.”

But even Nguyen couldn’t help the club shore up its finishing struggles in the final 20 minutes of the game. The pattern of missed shots sent the crowd into hysterics, chanting louder and louder in an attempt to urge its team to find the net. Ciman skied a free kick into the upper levels of the North End. Omar Gaber slipped a defender, waltzed across an empty goal box and somehow missed the frame from a handful of feet away.

To fully break the hearts of the supporters in stoppage time, Vela collected a ball in the box, swiveled and fired a shot that flew so quickly half of the stadium thought it went in. It was almost a minute later, as the keeper fished the ball out of the backside of the goal, that the black and gold cheers subsided.

In the end, LAFC remains undefeated at home, collecting a point and inching closer to Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Western Conference. But for Bradley and the team, the draw left them feeling bitter. Two points were left on the field, completely tangible and within reach.

“It’s easy to say that the problem was that we didn’t score goals,” Vela said. “We had a lot of chances to finish the game. Football is really quick. We lost two points at home. I think this team played really well and tried to be an attacking team and has scored goals. It’s the way we want to play. We are doing well and … we’ll have another chance on Wednesday.”

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