Carlos Vela leads LAFC past Houston – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Football Club struggled for a month to lock down the Western Conference title and assume control over the Major League Soccer Supporters’ Shield.

But that wasn’t anything a good weekend couldn’t cure.

A day after clinching the top seed in their conference when second-place Austin failed to win, LAFC reasserted its liberty in the season-long points battle by defeating Houston 3-1 Sunday evening at Banc of California Stadium.

Two first-half goals on penalty kicks by LAFC captain Carlos Vela held up as the Black & Gold went level with the Philadelphia Union and secured the first tiebreaker thanks to its 20th win.

Bucking a trend of slow starts, LAFC wasted no time taking the lead. Vela slotted his first penalty past Dynamo goalkeeper Steve Clark in the seventh minute after Denis Bouanga was fouled in the box.

Vela also showed up defensively in the 19th minute when he headed away a sure Houston equalizer off a corner kick.

The visitors momentarily found their way back into the match when midfielder Adalberto Carraquilla picked out former LAFC attacker Corey Baird with a beautiful long pass into the box before the half hour mark.

Traded to Houston (9-17-6, 33 points) in the 2021 summer transfer window for $750,000 in general allocation money and an international roster spot, Baird was subdued in celebration following a deft chip over Maxime Crepeau.

Prior to halftime, a video review confirmed a handball on Houston forward Fafa Picault, offering Vela a chance at his first multi-goal performance since an opening day hat trick.

The brace gave Vela 11 goals to go with 10 assists in 30 appearances, and improved LAFC’s record to 13-1-2 when the Mexican contributed to the scoresheet.

Defender Ryan Hollingshead also continued his impactful play when he blasted a shot inside the box early in the second half. Hollingshead’s sixth goal of the year increased his league-leading tally for defenders, and, in 1,200 fewer minutes, tied a career high from 2019.

The result marked LAFC’s ninth consecutive win at the Banc, where they have scored in 41 consecutive matches and are assured of hosting throughout the conference playoffs.

With two contests remaining in the regular season, LAFC (20-8-4, 64 points) has grabbed hold of its Supporter Shields’ destiny and can earn a potential home MLS Cup final if they remain at least tied with Philadelphia when action resumes following the upcoming FIFA window.