LOS ANGELES — Seeking to put last weekend’s derby disappointment behind them, the Los Angeles Football Club needed some time before finding its jogging Sunday afternoon at Banc of California Stadium.
Finishes from Chicho Arango, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Jose Cifuentes offset another slow start that included an unlucky first-half own-goal by defender Diego Palacios.
The Black & Gold leaned into its strong bench, which helped the club retain its top spot in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference with a 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City to level their all-time series at 4-4.
“It was the right response from last week,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “I was quite pleased with the energy and mentality of the guys to not accept anything less than three points today.”
Neither side produced a shot on target until the 44th minute, however by that point LAFC (5-1-1, 16, points) had fallen behind on the scoresheet.
Sporting captain Johnny Russell caromed a cross off Palacios in the 38th minute that snuck past goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau at the near post.
Russell snagged the ball inside his own half when Palacio slipped to the ground then raced toward the LAFC box while the Ecuadorian international sprinted to recover. A skillful dribble provided Kansas City’s Scottish captain space to create a play that offered his team a short-lived lead.
LAFC responded by raising its level and Cherundolo’s side once again did not concede a second half goal.
“Unfortunately we’ve started games slowly this year,” the coach said. “We’ve tried to correct that. But surely after the other coaches and I have spoken to the group and made changes at half this group knows what to do and how to win games.
“I would prefer that the start in the first half to be better, but obviously the effort to finish at the end of games to finish games off has been a big difference from last season.”
LAFC began finding chances when former Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez dropped a ball over the top of the defense to captain Carlos Vela in the 41st minute, but an inadequate first touch prompted a weak shot that was blocked.
Vela then earned a foul in a dangerous spot outside the box that allowed Arango an opportunity to smash a well struck shot from 30 yards out that would have beaten the visitor’s goalkeeper, Tim Melia, had it not slammed hard off the post.
The ball ricocheted to Palacios on the other side of the field and he redeemed himself with a long cross that found Mamadou Fall. The tall Senagalse center back leapt above the Kansas City defense and headed it down toward Arango, who was unmarked near the center of the 6-yard box as he put away a simple header for his second goal of the season.
LAFC controlled Kansas City (2-6-0, 6 points) throughout the second half by making the most of its depth and ability to pressure.
In the 70th minute, the Black & Gold moved ahead for good following Palacios’s second assist, a direct ball over the top that popped up neatly for winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who had replaced Mahala Opoku shortly before the chance.
From just outside the box, Tajouri-Shradi ripped a volley by Melia for a 2-1 lead.
“I saw the goalkeeper was a little outside the goal and I said I’ll take this opportunity and we’ll see what it’s going to be,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “It was a perfect ball from Chiqui and I thought I would take this shot. Maybe it will be the goal of the week. Goal of the year. Let’s see. I just did it and it worked perfectly. I’m happy for that.
“We never give up. It doesn’t matter if we go down. We could see last week when we went down 2-0. We almost drew the game. That’s the character of the group. That’s the same this week. We go down 1-0 down and win 3-1.”
Eight minutes after Tajouri-Shradi hit what would be the game winner, Cifuentes, who was also substituted into the match after the hour mark, continued a productive early season with his first goal of the year.
The midfielder did not earn his sixth start after taking a knock in training this week, but the bleached blonde Ecuadorian dribbled into the visitor’s box, using Vela as a decoy, and turned opposing midfielder Remi Walter inside out before toeing a shot inside the far post to give his teammates breathing room.
“It’s a wonderful tool to have to bring in someone of that quality off the bench,” Cherundolo said. “He does exactly what we see in training. If there’s open space in the middle he will expose that space.
“We have a fantastic bench. We have a very deep team. And they made a difference today.”