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LAFC looks for bounce-back game against Real Salt Lake

If getting in games ahead of a big match is advantageous, the Los Angeles Football Club has at least one obvious edge on Leon heading into the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Losing in the qualifying round of the Clausura Liga MX final phase on Sunday, Leon won’t have another competitive match until LAFC visits Mexico on May 31.

As long as his team can avoid injury, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo prefers playing to waiting and will have his fill.

Prior to focusing on the continental prize with a week to prepare, the group has three Major League Soccer games and a well-earned U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 battle against the Galaxy on May 23 at BMO Stadium.

Coming off of their first league setback last weekend against San Jose in front of 45,112 fans at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Cherundolo gave starters and regular contributors a break on Tuesday night when attention shifted to a U.S. Open Cup match against USL’s Monterey Bay FC.

Overwatched by 38-year-old goalkeeper “Uncle” Eldin Jakupovic, eight teenagers and other prospects celebrated like the kids some of them are following an intense 120 minutes and six rounds of penalty kicks.

The result disappointed many of the 5,808 fans at Cardinale Stadium in Seaside but lifted their teammates back in L.A.

First-choice players watched on TV as the club’s youth movement pushed back against the congested schedule and delivered for the guys getting the brunt of the minutes.

“It was an amazing game,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who watched from home. “I’m excited for the boys for one) getting the opportunity and two) to showcase well. They played with a lot of confidence and it was a mature game from all of them.

“From our standpoint and Steve’s standpoint that was a huge success.”

After nine league games, Acosta is fifth on the team in minutes played (651) behind Ilie Sanchez, Diego Palacios, John McCarthy and Denis Bouanga, who leads LAFC (726).

Starting eight of the nine matches in which he’s appeared, scoring a team-best eight MLS goals, the French forward is tied atop the Golden Boot race entering the season’s 12th week.

With two goals against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night in Utah, Bouanga would become the sixth player in league history to finish 10 times in a 10-game stretch.

Four of the previous five players to do it finished the season leading the league in goals. LAFC captain Carlos Vela scored 10 in nine games en route to a single-season record 34 in 2019.

Bouanga’s 14 goals and six assists combined in league and Champions League play are the most by any MLS player at this point over the past four years, surpassing Vela’s 18 goal contributions when he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

RSL (3-5-2, 11 points) is unbeaten in its past five games but has lost six straight to LAFC (5-1-3, 18 points) and is 2-11-0 against them all-time.

Saturday’s match precedes home games with Sporting Kansas City and San Jose for LAFC. No matter how well Bouanga or his teammates play, navigating a trio of games in eight days might offer the club’s emerging talents another chance to shine in an Open Cup “El Trafico.”

“That’s Steve’s decision to make,” Acosta said. “But I thought, yeah, they had a really great game and from my standpoint, if you play well, perform well you obviously should get another shot.”

LAFC AT REAL SALT LAKE

When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. PT

Where: America First Field in Sandy, Utah

TV/Radio: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass/710 AM, 980 AM

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