LOS ANGELES — In the 26th minute of Saturday night’s match, Mark-Anthony Kaye could do nothing but hang his head.
He had done everything perfect — slid between two defenders in the box, then cut left to suddenly take several steps into a wide open swath of grass in front of the yawning mouth of the goal. At the exact moment that he cut, Eduard Atuesta centered a ball directly to his feet.
All it would have taken was the right shot, on target and with a little curl away from the goalkeeper, to give LAFC the early lead over FC Cincinnati. But Kaye wasn’t quite ready and didn’t entirely square up, and the shot was wrong the moment it came off his foot, ricocheting into the stands. The crowd let out a collective groan, and Kaye dropped his head into his hands, rubbing at his eyes momentarily before shaking his head and jogging back. His jaw was set with a clear determination — next time.
Next time came quickly enough, arriving only five minutes later. This time, the cross was wilder, whipping through the box directly at Kaye, who flicked it with his forehead to the back side of the net. This time, he had nothing to hang his head over, shimmying his shoulders and cheesing for the camera as his teammates leapt around him.
Kaye’s goal gave LAFC the lift it needed in a 2-0 victory over FC Cincinnati, marking the team’s seventh win of the season and continuing its undefeated streak to start the 2019 season. Despite the team’s dominant presence on the attack throughout the game, Kaye’s header was a salve for the team in a game flush with opportunities, but lacking in finishing for LAFC.
In many ways, even the win was a frustrating result for LAFC. As a team on a streak of four-plus goal games — often fueled by hat tricks from Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela — LAFC is well aware of its ability to score against a variety of teams. But despite taking 21 shots on the game, LAFC placed only six balls on frame all night. For 90 minutes, it looked as though Kaye’s goal would be the saving grace of a night filled with shots that went too wide or too high or too soft, as the typical stars of the team battled through an off night.
Apr 13, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles FC midfielder Eduard Atuesta (20) and FC Cinncinati midfielder Kenny Saief (93) battle for the ball during the first half at Banc of California Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
But Vela couldn’t be denied forever. With seconds to spare in stoppage time, Vela shook a defender free and sidled into the box, then slipped the ball past the ‘keeper with a deft flick of his right foot. The goal sent the crowd into a frenzy as it could finally relax for the remainder of the game — even if that was only a minute or two of play. It also marked Vela’s league-leading eighth goal of the season and his third straight game with at least one score.
While disrupting the LAFC attack, Cincinnati also flexed its speed in transition more than once, forcing defenders Walker Zimmerman and Jordan Harvey to fly back and make sliding clearances to defend the goal. Although FC Cincinnati only created seven opportunities for shots, two were placed on frame and all of them were true threats to the LAFC defense. One shot taken in the final minutes of the first half forced goalkeeper Tyler Miller to fully extend, leaping and arching from a stand still to swat away the shot.
The final score added another win to the LAFC ledger, and continued to add to the team’s confidence at home. In its opening season, LAFC quickly established the dominance of its home field advantage. Dropping only a single loss on its home turf at Banc of California stadium in 2018, LAFC has opened this season strong as ever at home, selling out every home game and scoring nine of its 19 goals of its sophomore season at home.