MLS

Vela, Cifuentes hand LAFC top spot in Western Conference

By Sports Desk May 22, 2022

Los Angeles FC momentarily moved to the top of the Western Conference in the MLS on Saturday, claiming a 2-0 victory over Columbus Crew.

Goals in the second half from Carlos Vela and Jose Cifuentes handed LAFC the three points, to put them three points clear of Austin FC, who have a game in hand.

James Igbekeme missed from close range for the Crew in the third minute and with the majority of possession, failed to create anything of substance from that point.

LAFC were able to punish them in transition through Vela in the 62nd minute, darting in behind the defensive line before finishing past Eloy Room.

Cifuentes doubled the margin in the 73rd minute, left with a relatively simple finish after Cristian Arango claimed the ball just outside the penalty area in a comical loss of possession from a Crew goal kick.

The win moves LAFC to 26 points from 13 games but elsewhere in the Western Conference, Nashville SC were unable to move to fourth, twice letting the lead slip in a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United.

In the Eastern Conference, DC United and Toronto FC also played out a 2-2 draw, while Tommy McNamara's spectacular finish in the 89th minute handed the New England Revolution a 3-2 win over Cincinnati.

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    The win required a major comeback after Lalas Abubakar put the Rapids ahead in the 19th minute and the hosts then doubled their advantage three minutes later with a Jonathan Lewis strike.

    Austin pegged one back in the 28th minute when Ethan Finlay struck from just inside the area, and the sides went in all square at 2-2 when Sebastian Driussi equalised in first-half stoppage time.

    The visitors thought they had completed their comeback in the 52nd minute, only for Maximiliano Urruti's goal to be ruled out, but that decision merely delayed the celebrations as Urriti scored again seven minutes later.

    The turnaround continued a remarkable trend for Austin, who have now won two and drawn two of the five games in which they have trailed my multiple goals this season, losing just once.

    They held out this time despite Kipp Keller's dismissal for a second yellow card in the 75th minute, after which Colorado dominated 81.4 per cent of the possession and hit the post through Michael Barrios but could not find an equaliser.

    Elsewhere, the LA Galaxy pummelled CF Montreal 4-0 in an effective counter-attacking display.

    Javier Hernandez opened the scoring for the Galaxy, Dejan Jovelic doubled the lead from the penalty spot, and Rayan Raveloson grabbed a second-half brace to complete the rout.

    Inter Miami left it late to draw with FC Dallas, netting an 88th-minute equaliser through substitute Leonardo Campana, and there was also late drama in DC United's highly entertaining 5-3 win at Orlando City.

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    Rather than collapse, though, United made sure of victory with a 96th-minute goal from Nigel Robertha.

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    "He wants to come."

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

    Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

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    Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

    "We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

    "What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

    At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

    Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

    But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
     

    Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

    Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

    But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

    Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

    His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

     

    The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

    Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

    Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

    Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

    A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

    He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

    Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

    Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
     

    Top-class creativity 

    As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

    Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

    Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

     

    Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

    Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
     

    World Cup hopes

    It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

    He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

    While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

    Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

    Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

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