On Saturday, March 23, LAFC played Real Salt Lake in another grudge match of sorts. LAFC bested Real Salt Lake twice, even routing them 5-1 early last season, before narrowly losing to them and missing out on going deeper into the playoffs. LAFC was missing a few starting faces as well, namely midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye(International call-up for Canada), Lee Nguyen (hamstring injury) and Christian Ramirez (International call-up for USA).
In a match with a lot of context, due to the history the two teams have with each other, both teams played for more than just the win. Real Salt Lake wanted revenge for the 5-1 thrashing, and LAFC were playing payback for last November. It was obvious from the get-go that Real was trying to beat LAFC at their own game. LAFC, because of their pacey squad and quick one-touch pass playing style, is a hard team to beat. They are very good at baiting the other team into committing fouls, with this game being the second home display in a row that LAFC baited an opposing player to draw a red card.
For much of the initial phases of the match, Real Salt lake were being sent to the ground, up and down the pitch, trying to beat LAFC at their own game.
One of LAFC’s best chances of the first half, came from a Carlos Vela freekick just outside of the box. In the 29thminute, Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando kept his team from going down first with an acrobatic save, punching Vela’s attempt that was surely goal-bound.
Just a few minutes later, all of the baiting that Real Salt Lake had been pulling for was fully realized in the 32ndminute, when Latif Blessing clipped a Real player in the box, drawing the penalty, which was easily put away to the bereavement of LAFC and their faithful.
In the 40thminute, LAFC would find the answer they were looking for. LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta received the ball in midfield and began to make the charge towards Real Salt Lake’s box. Atuesta passed the ball to Vela, who found Blessing at the edge of the box. Blessing attempted to pass the ball in the path of a streaking Diomande, when a Real defender made a last ditch effort and deflected the ball away from Diomande, where it trickled nicely into the path of Diego Rossi, who blasted it past Rimando to put the Black and Gold level before halftime.
Perhaps the most bemusing part of the match happened in the 84thminute, when Diego Rossi was making a dangerous run down the wing, Real Salt Lake midfielder Justin Portillo appeared to shove Rossi in the face, sending the forward to the ground. Portillo was shown the instant red and sent off.
In the dying moments of the game and with the one-man advantage, the ball found its way to Walker Zimmerman. Zimmerman, with little to no options left as Real had all 10 men behind the ball defending, opted to launch the ball as hard as he could towards goal. The ball swerved violently in the air, hitting the back of the net leaving Real’s keeper Rimando planted where he stood.
Deflection or not, LAFC once again had their better-late-than-never fairytale ending, coming from the unlikeliest of sources.