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    LAFC heads to Houston expecting to feel the heat
    • July 7, 2024

    With the emotional and stressful Fourth of July victory over the Galaxy at the Rose Bowl behind them, the Los Angeles Football Club heads to hot and muggy Houston for a rematch of the 2023 Western Conference final on Sunday.

    After falling during the regular season to the Houston Dynamo twice in less than a week last year, LAFC won when it mattered most with to a 2-0 triumph at BMO Stadium in early December that sent the club to its second consecutive MLS Cup.

    Sandwiched between El Trafico and a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match Wednesday, LAFC’s first meeting with Houston this season presents the hosts with a chance to be the first team to beat the Black & Gold in more than a dozen matches since early of May.

    “We traditionally have not done well there and we’re looking to change that,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said Saturday as his team prepared to travel to Texas.

    In MLS play, LAFC has taken five out of 15 points in Houston, and also lost a U.S. Open Cup semifinal match in 2018.

    Houston comes in losing once in its last seven matches, a 3-2 defeat at Real Salt Lake on July 3, and occupies the seventh spot in the West.

    “We know we can respond,” Houston center back Erik Sviatchenko said. “We have a solid group that are at a high level.

    “We need a full stadium. It could be nice against LAFC to put them under pressure at Shell Energy.”

    The Dynamo (8-7-6, 30 points) have hung tough in the league despite injuries on the back line. Under head coach Ben Olsen, who took over last year and proceeded to lift the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Houston has allowed the third-fewest goals in its conference while using a possession-based style to control matches.

    “Even at home they put us under pressure,” LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez said. “We had to play a very complete game for us to advance to MLS Cup. On top of that, they are at home and they always show their best version when they are down in Houston, not just against LAFC but against any other opponent in this league. I remember going with Kansas City and having tough times getting results at that place, and again with LAFC experiencing the same difficulties.”

    For Houston, fullback Franco Escobar, a member of LAFC’s 2022 MLS Cup championship squad, won’t play due to yellow card accumulation.

    As challenging as the Dynamo can be, no team in MLS has been a bigger challenge for opponents the past two months than LAFC, which has conceded the fewest goals in the West (24) and is tied for the second most in the league (43).

    Attempting to extend its club record unbeaten streak, which stands at 12 in all competitions, LAFC is “doing our best to stay with the same mentality, same attitude and discipline because we know that’s the shortest way for us to get the results,” Sanchez said.

    Cherundolo’s starting lineup was consistent the past three games, though alterations could come Sunday and then Wednesday for the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal contest against New Mexico United at BMO Stadium.

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    In Houston, LAFC (13-4-4, 43 points) will take the field without midfielder Timothy Tillman, who is suspended one match after receiving a yellow card versus the Galaxy. Defender Aaron Long is also questionable after taking a knock Thursday.

    “There’s plenty of important games moving forward,” Cherundolo said. “Thinking game to game is really important without obviously losing sight of long-term freshness and health of the players. But it’s a tough task.”

    LAFC AT HOUSTON

    When: 5:39 p.m. PT Sunday

    Where: Shell Energy Stadium, Houston

    TV/Radio: Apple TV (MLS Season Pass)/710 AM, ESPN LA App, 980 AM

    ​ Orange County Register 

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