For Los Angeles Football Club midfielder Kellyn Acosta, shutting out Western Conference leader St. Louis City SC a couple of months ago boosted his belief in his club’s chances of repeating.
“We’re coming,” Acosta declared following the 3-0 victory at BMO Stadium on July 12, which put the defending Major League Soccer champions near the top of the table in second place through 22 matches. “We’re LAFC.”
Leading up to a mammoth first-ever visit to CityPark in St. Louis on Wednesday night, however, not much has changed in the standings over the summer.
St. Louis (15-10-4, 49 points) failed to pull away, winning three and losing three to go with two draws.
Second-place LAFC (12-9-7, 43 points) failed to capitalize, winning three and losing three, with a single draw, leaving them six points behind with a game in hand.
Scheduled for consecutive away games, with a trip to Philadelphia’s Subaru Park coming Saturday, LAFC visits a pair of venues that are considered among the most difficult for visiting teams over the next four days.
“We’re really focused on St. Louis and we’ll see where we are Wednesday night after the game,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said.
St. Louis has been in first place for 11 consecutive matches since June 24, and 23 of 29 match days overall. Anchored by goalkeeper Roman Bürki, who did not record a save against LAFC in July, the Swiss player tops MLS with 108 after a league-most 29 games played.
St. Louis secured three points in 10 of the first 14 regular-season matches at its new downtown stadium, including the last four. The conference leaders scored at least three times in eight of their 10 home wins, tallying 37 goals at CityPark.
Meanwhile, the road has been unkind to the Black & Gold, which is 0-4-1 in its last five tries, winning two of 13 matches in all competitions dating to late April.
“We don’t look back on these games,” LAFC forward Stipe Biuk said. “Just forward to these two games, St. Louis and Philadelphia.”
If he wishes, Biuk can look back on the initial encounter with St. Louis and smile. (LAFC has never lost to an expansion team, going 7-0 while outscoring the opposition 17-1.) The young Croatian entered with a half-hour remaining and was on the field for LAFC’s three goals, including his own during one of the team’s best transition moments this year.
“They jump with their defenders a lot,” Biuk said. “We had a great counter-attack sequence. There was a lot of space and I remember I was alone on the right side and scored.
“We outplayed them. But now this will be a different game.”
This time, LAFC might need to mitigate St. Louis forward João Klauss, who was injured in July and has seven goals in 11 starts. The Brazilian scored in consecutive matches for the third time this year when he found a late equalizer at Houston on Saturday.
“He’s a catalyst for their team,” Acosta said. “He’s a guy who creates numerous opportunities. He’s a big body so he’s hard to miss but also a technical player, savvy player, a guy that is tidy around the box. We definitely have to be keen on the matchup.”
Generally speaking, Cherundolo expects more of what St. Louis has shown all season – hard-working, hungry, disciplined, opportunist play built on a foundation of the New York Red Bulls system managed by South African coach Bradley Carnell – prompting a game with transition moments, fights over second balls, tempo battles and small outcome-defining margins.
“We have sights on being the winners of the Western Conference,” Acosta said, “and this is a huge opportunity for us to step in the right direction.”
LAFC AT ST. LOUIS CITY SC
When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. PT
Where: CityPark, St. Louis, Mo.
TV/radio: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass/710 AM, 980 AM