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D.C. United comes back to snag a draw at Los Angeles FC amid controversy

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Ismail Elfath left both teams furious as Paul Arriola sparked D.C. in their first-ever game against LAFC

Controversy reigned as D.C. United came away from their first-ever game against Los Angeles FC with a 1-1 draw tonight at Banc of California Stadium. Diego Rossi opened the score for LAFC late in the first half, but Dejan Jakovic’s red card a few minutes later gave United a path back into the game. Referee Ismail Elfath angered both teams after potential penalty kicks were waved off, before Darren Mattocks got the Black-and-Red a point with a late header.

Coming off of a 3-1 win in San Jose, Ben Olsen named the exact same starting eleven for just the second time all season. On the bench, Junior Moreno returned from a three-game absence due to injury while Joseph Mora came back from suspension, with Jalen Robinson and Dane Kelly making way.

LAFC quickly adjusted to early high pressure from United, and before long the visitors were spending long spells defending in their own half. One 11th minute sequence saw United defenders block three straight powerful shots from just outside the box as the home side showed their passing ability.

Other than a Mattocks header that probably should have become a goal in the 17th minute, United was not spending much time on the front foot. Paul Arriola’s prodigious work rate ended up creating that chance, and was also vital to bail out teammates in several instances as LAFC controlled the early proceedings.

Eventually the home side’s ownership of the ball resulted in some good chances, both falling to Mark-Anthony Kaye. First, a ball over the top for him broke the offside trap, but David Ousted rushed off his line, flustering the Canadian midfielder into hesitating long enough that United’s ‘keeper could get low and slap the ball away. Moments later, a cross from the right wing found Kaye again, and his bullet header smacked off the post before bouncing harmlessly away.

Nick DeLeon was forced off with an apparent knee injury in the 26th minute, and two minutes later United carved out a great chance. Zoltan Stieber’s corner picked out Steve Birnbaum at the back post, but the center back’s free header bounced heartbreakingly wide, even as goalkeeper Tyler Miller stood frozen on his line.

D.C. was growing into the game, and a clever backheel from Mattocks caught Laurent Ciman out in the 32nd minute. Arriola raced onto the ball, but with no support had to have a go by himself, with Miller tipping it over the bar for a corner kick.

United were making life difficult for LAFC, but let their guard down for a moment and paid for it in the 39th minute. Benny Feilhaber’s pass into the area for Carlos Vela didn’t appear to be too much trouble at first, but Mora wasted two chances to clear, and the ball fell to Diego Rossi. The young Uruguayan had been a passenger for most of the game up to that point, but he pounced this time, steering the ball into the bottom corner.

United’s set piece threat continued to be their best weapon, and Birnbaum was robbed of an equalizer in first half stoppage time. Stieber’s service picked him out at the back post, where Birnbaum soared over the back of Jordan Harvey to head the ball down. Miller was going the wrong way and appeared to have no chance after the ball clipped Kaye and changed direction, but somehow kept his trailing foot behind him long enough to make a critical save.

The game was growing progressively more lively, and within a minute of Miller’s save LAFC went down to 10 men. Former United center back Dejan Jakovic lunged in studs-up on Arriola at midfield, and Ismail Elfath had no hesitation in showing him a red card. Despite that, the home side had one last chance at goal, with Feilhaber curling a free kick over the wall and just barely wide in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Bradley made a change as a result of the red card during the break, bringing Joao Moutinho in at center back, with Latif Blessing making way as LAFC moved into a 432 formation. Despite the man advantage for United, it was Rossi creating the first chance of the half, storming out of midfield before powering a shot that Ousted had to tip around the post.

The Dane was deeply unhappy with the team in front of them in the 56th minute, as Los Angeles managed to send Vela in behind the defense with ease. Fortunately for United, Vela’s shot skipped wide of the post, mercifully letting D.C. stay within one goal.

United finally started to push LAFC into some uncomfortable spots around the hour mark, and before long should have been given a penalty kick. Ciman fell down in an attempt to win a foul on Mattocks as the ball went out of bounds, and grabbed the ball thinking Elfath would give him the free kick. Instead, he handled the ball, and after protests from D.C., Elfath went to the video review monitor. Television replays clearly showed the hand ball, but Elfath instead dubiously called Mattocks for a foul.

Elfath kept himself involved moments later, initially awarding LAFC a penalty kick after Stieber blocked Harvey’s cross. This time, though, Elfath returned from the monitor and ruled that Stieber had not had his arms in an unnatural position, waving off the penalty kick and awarding Los Angeles a corner.

Olsen brought Bruno Miranda in for Fisher, moving Arriola into a very attack-minded right back role with his last roll of the dice. Still, it took a while for United to create much beyond a second, far less solid penalty kick shout after Mora’s cross hit Harvey.

At long last, the Black-and-Red got the breakthrough in the 83rd minute. A patient build-up saw D.C. work the ball from the right to the left, where Luciano Acosta and Yamil Asad combined to send Mora into space down the left. Mora fizzed a cross to the back post, where Arriola produced a tremendous leap to win a challenge with Moutinho and head back across goal. Lurking on the doorstep was Mattocks, who simply stepped forward to nod the ball into the back of the net from five yards, making it five goals on the year for the Jamaican striker.

There was more drama to come. Feilhaber sent substitute Adama Diomande in behind United’s defense only for the Norwegian to hesitate over the ball, allowing Ousted to come out and grab it in the nick of time. Just before stoppage time, a turnover fell straight to Eduard Atuesta, who lashed a 22 yarder that Ousted barely saved at full stretch.

United then threw the kitchen sink at LAFC, flooding the attacking third with numbers in search of a late winner. They never came closer than Frederic Brillant’s 93rd minute header from yet another Stieber corner. Brillant rose above a crowd to direct the ball to the back post. Miller had no chance at a save, but the ball cruelly struck the foot of the post and bounced away from danger.

Mattocks had one more chance, as a cross from the right wing by Stieber caught LAFC’s defense unbalanced. Mora sprinted forward to attack the ball, but couldn’t quite reach it, and Mattocks — unmarked at the back post — appeared thrown off by his presence. Mattocks took a swing, but the ball was just behind him, and LAFC escaped.

The eventful draw leaves United on 9 points from 10 games, and with their first unbeaten streak of 2018. The Black-and-Red’s next MLS match is on June 9th against the Seattle Sounders, but before that they’ll host North Carolina FC in the fourth round of the US Open Cup.