Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SANDY — The stars were out in Salt Lake County Saturday when Gareth Bale and LAFC brought their league-leading campaign to Rio Tinto Stadium in a 4-1 victory, extending their win streak to five.
"At any point, (Cristian Arango) can strike, Bale can strike, (Carlos) Vela can strike," head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of the difficulty of playing LAFC. "It always adds a little bit of doubt to the defense when you have players of that magnitude coming into games."
The greatest show in MLS also brought a record-breaking crowd to the RioT, with an all-time high of 21,810 in attendance, topping the previous high of 21,363 set in 2018 vs. the LA Galaxy, which starred Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
"I thought the fans were really a great 12th man," Mastroeni said of the record crowd. "They wanted it more than everyone."
It didn't take long for LAFC's leading goalscorer, Arango, to get going in Sandy, taking advantage of a free-kick rebound in the box to send one past Zac MacMath in the ninth minute.
The ball appeared to be heading out of bounds on the set piece, but Justin Meram kept it in, and — after a bit of scrum in the box — Arango got ahold of it, misdirected the ball with one foot, and spun it into the corner in back-heel fashion with the other.
That's nasty from Chicho Arango. pic.twitter.com/vxrhuwXb88— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) August 7, 2022
RSL responded just three minutes later when Andrew Brody dribbled through a pair of LA defenders, found Sergio Cordova just outside the box, who turned and drilled one into the bottom-left corner to equalize at 1-1.
The rapid start for both teams wasn't finished, as LAFC came back in the 17th minute and Kellyn Acosta slid one into the corner just past MacMath to, once again, give the road team a 2-1 lead.
RSL felt that a series of calls by the official did not go their way around the 30-minute mark, and Mastroeni let the officiating staff hear it. LAFC captain Vela was called for a handball soon after and Mastroeni and his players felt he deserved a card, but to no avail.
Justice was finally met for RSL when Acosta was handed a yellow card in the 40th minute for a late tackle on Brody.
RSL had a couple of chances from Anderson Julio and Jefferson Savarino go just over the goal as the first half expired, sending a stadium full of frustrated fans to the break with their home team down a goal.
The Claret and Cobalt came out firing in the second half, with a pair of chances from Meram and Brody in the 49th and 50th minutes, followed by a through ball in the 51st from Meram that was barely out of reach of the streaking Cordova in front of goal.
LAFC made RSL pay for its mistakes in the 60th minute when Kwadwo Opoku sprinted down the left flank and crossed in a ground ball that found Arango right in front of goal for his second score of the night.
With a comfortable 3-1 lead, LAFC elected to make its first line change, bringing on Bale to replace Vela in the attack, eliciting one of the loudest cheers of the night from the sold-out crowd.
The referee met an especially loud series of boos in the 69th minute when long-time Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini stopped the ball from going over him with both arms, warranting a yellow card for one of LA's newest soccer stars.
Bale then left his mark in his first visit to the Beehive State, rounding his favored right flank, then maneuvering around RSL's back line before sending one past MacMath and into the far post with his signature left-footed finesse for a 4-1 lead.
The result put LAFC at a league-best 54 points on the season: six points clear of second place in the west and 17 points clear of RSL at 34.
"There's a lot of great stuff that we did tonight on both sides of the ball," Mastroeni said. "Unfortunately, the score line doesn't reveal any of that. But we've got another week and we've got another game next weekend to really continue to improve on the process."
The next match for the Claret and Cobalt is a road meeting against the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. MDT.