Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini jumps to celebrate with teammates after forward Kwadwo Opoku scored against the Seattle Sounders during the first half of an MLS soccer match Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Major League Soccer-leading LAFC (15-4-3) earned its season-best fourth consecutive victory and moved seven points clear of Austin atop the Western Conference during its longest winning streak since 2019. LAFC is also six points ahead Philadelphia in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
“It was important to stay on top of the league, to send a message to us and the other teams that we're going to continue to win,” Chiellini said. “The winning mentality is growing up in this team.”
Seattle scored on an early own-goal by LAFC, but still dropped to 0-5-1 at Banc of California Stadium during the regular season. The Sounders won the 2019 Western Conference final here, and LAFC's new stars already realize the importance of beating a perennial MLS contender.
“I understand that maybe after the Galaxy, (Seattle) is the most vital team in the MLS, so we knew it would be difficult,” Chiellini said.
Chiellini started and played 71 minutes in his home debut, while Bale came on as a substitute in the 63rd minute of both players' third match overall with their new club. The duo’s moves to LAFC this summer turned a team that was already atop the MLS table into a potential powerhouse for the final three months of the season.
Bale, who scored his first MLS goal at Kansas City last week, got several standing ovations from the lively crowd. Chiellini also got loud cheers when he checked out.
“He's constantly working toward getting match minutes and getting his fitness back,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said of Bale. “It's Week 3 of the preseason for him. He's going to get sharper, faster, better.”
Chiellini and LAFC were cheered on from the front row by Ángel Di María and several other players from Juventus, the club that employed Chiellini for the past 17 seasons. Juve is in Los Angeles on its U.S. summer tour to face Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Bale also visited his former Madrid teammates at their training session in Los Angeles earlier this week.
“I had many friends here, and they were enjoying it a lot,” Chiellini said. “I'm glad they know now why I chose this club. I think I can show Europe and all the world how this club is growing up.”
Seattle went ahead in the 14th minute when Cristian Roldan forced a turnover and made a sizzling cross into the box, where a sliding Jesús Murillo tipped it into his own net.
LAFC appeared to score in the 27th minute with a big strike by Vela, but the goal was disallowed when video review indicated Vela used his arm to settle the ball.
Opoku still evened it eight minutes later with an impressive strike of his own, threading a shot between two Sounders and past a diving Stefan Frei. The 21-year-old Ghanaian forward known better known as Mahala is finding his groove in MLS with five goals this season.
Vela got the go-ahead goal in the 43rd minute when he slid to deflect José Cifuentes' cross past Frei at point-blank range.