June 12, 2024

When LAFC entered the league in 2018, its first game was against the Sounders in Seattle. It won that game and MLS has been trying to turn the series into a rivalry since.

But for a rivalry to take hold, the results must be evenly matched. That hasn’t been the case with these two teams for some time.

LAFC’s latest win came Saturday, with goals from Timothy Tillman and Mateusz Bogusz carrying it to a 2-1 season-opening victory over the Sounders in front of a sun-splashed sellout crowd of more than 22,000 at BMO Stadium. And this one came with a bit of history because the win not only ran LAFC’s unbeaten streak against the Sounders to seven games, it was also the team’s seventh straight win on opening day, dating to the 2018 game in Seattle.

No MLS team has done better.

Including the playoffs and the MLS Is Back tournament, LAFC has beaten the Sounders 10 times; Real Salt Lake is the only team it has beaten more often. And LAFC has not only gone nearly three years without losing to the Sounders, it has gone five games without giving up a goal to a Seattle player from the run of play.

None of that changed Saturday, though LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo was at a loss to explain what it all meant.

“I’m not a huge fan of drawing conclusions from season to season or stretching stats out over multiple years,” he said. “But in this case, it’s positive. So I’ll accept it.”

This game was about more than just numbers though.

After two straight trips to the MLS Cup final, LAFC is a team in transition. For the first time, it started a season without captain Carlos Vela — Bogusz took his place in the center of the front line while midfielder Ilie Sánchez wore the armband — and it also welcomed a new left back in Mexican Omar Campos, a new keeper in Frenchman Hugo Lloris and welcomed back Colombian midfielder Eduard Atuesta, a member of the 2018 expansion roster who returned after a two-year absence.

All had impressive season debuts.

The Sounders, meanwhile, were missing six players to injury, among them midfielders Albert Rusnak and João Paulo, defender Yeimar and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who led the league with 16 clean sheets in 2023.

Frei’s spot was taken by Andrew Thomas, 25, who, like Lloris, was making his first MLS appearance. But while Thomas’ professional experience has been limited to MLS Next Pro and the second-tier USL Championship, Lloris, 37, has started a record 20 World Cup games and leads the French national team with 145 appearances.

Playing for the first time since his last start at Tottenham in April, Lloris made his presence felt immediately with five saves in the opening 25 minutes, the first coming in the third minute when he used both fists to bat down a shot from Jordan Morris.

“He’s just kind of steady rock for us, a sense of security,” Cherundolo said of Lloris. “All the players feel it when he’s there, which is very important. His decision-making is going to make us a lot better. Regardless of his qualities as a goalkeeper, his decision-making on the ball is already going to improve us. And then he’s also somebody who can come up with a big save.”

Lloris says he can get a lot better.

“I’m still learning my teammate,” he said. “It’s been very good so far. I know that physically, I’m not 100% yet. I know that I need to get the rhythm of the competition because it’s been 10 months now.”

Thomas passed his first test seconds later, stopping Cristian Olivera at the end of a breakaway that began with a long pass from Lloris. But LAFC finally broke through in the final minute of the first half when Campos picked out Tillman with a long cross from the end line and the midfielder did the rest, lifting a right-footed volley by Thomas for the 1-0 lead.

Bogusz doubled the margin 10 minutes into the second half, stepping away from Seattle defender Josh Atencio at the top of the box and drilling a right-footed just shot under the crossbar.

The Sounders cut the lead in half on Pedro de la Vega’s penalty kick in the 73rd minute after LAFC’s Aaron Long cut down Morris in the box. Replacement referee Wesley Costa, who struggled all afternoon to control the match, originally waved off the foul, but after taking a lengthy look at a video replay, he awarded the penalty and De la Vega beat Lloris cleanly from the spot.

That was all the keeper conceded though, and after the final whistle Lloris, the last player off the field, took a victory lap around the stadium with his children, who were outfitted in black-and-gold jerseys with their father’s name and No. 1 on the back.

After just one game, the newcomer is already fitting in.

“The atmosphere in the stadium is just amazing. The expectation from the fans create a lot of motivation and it makes us very ambitious,” Lloris said. “For my family and myself, it’s a great opportunity to come here and to share this life experience together.

“The first game is always special.”

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