LOS ANGELES — It ranks nowhere near the prettiest performance from the Los Angeles Football Club this year, but a 1-0 victory over lowly D.C. United on Tuesday night extended the Supporters’ Shield leaders’ franchise-record winning streak to seven matches.
Kwadwo “Mahala” Opoku’s second-half game-winner held up against United, which entered the match at the bottom of the 28-team MLS standings and has now been held scoreless in four consecutive matches.
After 25 games, LAFC has a nine-point advantage over its closest competitors, Austin FC and the Philadelphia Union, placing the Black & Gold in firm control in the race for the second trophy in club history.
LAFC (18-4-3, 57 points) pushed for an early lead, but its disjointed and overeager buildup made for a relatively stress-free 45 minutes for debuting D.C. goalkeeper David Ochoa.
Acquired in the recent transfer window from Real Salt Lake, Ochoa went untested by a shot on target despite five LAFC corner kicks and a dozen crosses into the box throughout its frustrating opening half.
“Less crossing would be better,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “That is not our model. We prefer to enter the box on the ground firmly with a dribble, a carry or a pass.”
On the other end of the pitch, Maxime Crepeau was forced into a pair of impressive saves that kept the match scoreless at the break for the second consecutive contest at Banc of California Stadium.
LAFC’s adjustments in the dressing room prompted a five-goal outburst against Charlotte FC on Saturday. Three days later, LAFC got the goal it needed but that was the extent of its output against the worst team in MLS.
Tempting fate by compiling five yellow cards between the 15th and 60th minutes, D.C. (6-15-4, 22 points) went down a man when defender Steve Birnbaum picked up his second yellow in a 10-minute span.
Referee Craig Lowry sent off Birnbaum, an Irvine native, leaving an already outgunned United squad short-handed as Cherundolo once again called upon his vaunted bench.
“It was hard,” said Opoku, who scored five minutes after replacing Brian Rodriguez. “The flow was not coming. It was 0-0 and we were fighting to get three points.”
A deflection by defender Jesus Murillo led to a quick counterattack as Carlos Vela picked up the ball at midfield and then fed it into the box to Cristian Arango, who chipped a short pass to Opoku. The 21-year-old forward took one touch before guiding the ball into an empty net in the 67th minute in what he described as yet another confidence-building moment.
Opoku’s sixth goal of the season was his second game-winner, though D.C. nearly leveled the score two minutes later when its leading scorer, Taxiarchis Fountas, clanged a shot off the post from distance.
Crepeau finished the match with three saves to secure his eighth shutout of the season, making D.C. the fifth MLS team ever to lose five consecutive road matches without scoring.
“We are not happy like we were the other night,” the coach said. “I think tonight the end product, our football in the final third, for lack of a better word was quite sloppy and lethargic.”
For the second game in a row, LAFC did not suit up Gareth Bale or Giorgio Chiellini as a precaution because both transfer window signings have experienced the aches and pains that manifest with limited fitness.
LAFC will be on the road for six of its nine remaining regular-season matches, including its next three in San Jose, a key match against Austin and a quick turnaround in Houston.
“We’re having a great rhythm at the moment,” Crepeau said. “But the most important game is the next one and that’s the mentality all the way to the end. This group is really tight. We’re all on the same page. Now we’re focused on San Jose and on the trip coming forward.”
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source: The Pasadena Star-News