Call off the search party and take the team logo off the side of those milk cartons. LAFC, lost for most of the last two months, may have been found.
Because if you squinted really hard, the team looked somewhat like its old self for much of Sunday evening, riding first-half goals from Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Bradley Wright-Phillips to a 4-2 victory over the Portland Timbers at an empty Banc of California Stadium.
Danny Musovski added an insurance goal, the only score of the second half, on the final touch of the game for LAFC (4-4-3), which won for the second time in seven games.
Eryk Williamson and Jeremy Ebobisse scored for Portland (4-4-2).
LAFC not only ended a modest two-game losing streak — the team’s second such skid in three weeks — but also the four goals were its first in three games. And while the team clearly hasn’t solved all its problems — the defense is still a mess and the passing, especially in the attacking third, remains spotty — there were some things in Sunday’s performance that were reminiscent of the old LAFC, the one that won the Supporters’ Shield last year with the best single-season record in MLS history.
“I’m happy for the players,” coach Bob Bradley said. “When you go through a little bit of adversity, you have to find ways to play out of it.
“We continue to try to just regain confidence.”
LAFC outshot the Timbers, outpassed them and built a sizable lead in time of possession. It also erased a deficit for the first time in eight games, responding to Williamson’s goal in the 25th minute with three consecutive scores.
Another positive sign for LAFC was the return of midfielder Eduard Atuesta, arguably the team’s most important player, who played 10 minutes in his first appearance since injuring his right foot in July.
LAFC won just once in six games after Atuesta went down, giving up 15 goals before he checked back in late Sunday.
“We just need to play through it. That’s the only thing we can do,” Musovski said of the recent struggles. “We were in a bit of a rough stretch and we just want to bounce back. The only way you can do that is game by game.
“It’s just a good mentality.”
The counter-attacking Timbers, as is their style, ceded possession throughout a fast-paced if somewhat sloppy first half but still managed the first two shots of the game.
They made the second one count when Williamson, given way too much space on the right side of the penalty area, beat LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega to give Portland a 1-0 lead.
The buildup began with Portland working the ball around the box, with Diego Valeri bringing it up the left wing and sending a pass on to Felipe Mora at the top of the penalty area. Ebobisse then threw a pick on LAFC defender Eddie Segura, opening the way for Williamson to collect Mora’s feed, avoid the onrushing Kaye and complete the easy finish for his second goal in as many games.
A few minutes later, referee Jair Marrufo stopped play for a three-minute hydration break and that proved to be a refreshing pause for LAFC, which scored three times in an eight-minute span to take control of the game.
Kaye got it started, racing to the far post to flick in Wright-Phillips’ deflection of a Brian Rodriguez corner in the 37th minute for his second goal of the season. LAFC took its first lead in three games four minutes later on Rossi’s league-leading 10th goal of the season off another Rodriguez assist, his sixth of the year.
“Diego has taken more responsibility. He’s become more of a leader,” Bradley said of Rossi, who wore the captain’s armband Sunday.
“He’s growing as a player. He’s getting better and better.”
When Wright-Phillips scored a minute into stoppage time, it gave the team three first-half goals for the first time this season. Ebobisse pulled one of those back a minute later, cutting between two defenders to head in a long Jorge Villafaña cross on what proved to be the final touch of the half.
Portland nearly equaled the score in the 62nd minute when Valeri’s long free kick got past Sisniega, but LAFC got some help when the ball struck the right goalpost.
Musovski then closed out the scoring with his second career goal.
The road ahead isn’t getting any easier for LAFC, which has just four days to prepare for a rematch in Seattle with the defending champion Sounders, the first game in a sprint of 12 games in 51 days to complete the COVID-19-interrupted MLS regular season.