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LAFC’s Franco Escobar scores tying goal against Union

LOS ANGELES — A high-paced clash of Major League Soccer conference leaders finished all square Saturday at Banc of California Stadium.

Coming from behind twice, the Los Angeles Football Club drew 2-2 with the Philadelphia Union to preserve a point and remain unbeaten on its pitch in 2022.

Off a throw-in near midfield in the ninth minute, Julian Carranza opened Philadelphia’s tally when he received the ball and sidestepped both Ilie Sanchez and Kellyn Acosta to run free toward the LAFC box.

Streaking up the left side of the field Philadelphia defender Kai Wagner took Carranza’s pass and hit it first time across the face of goal, where Daniel Gazdag, waiting at the far post, punched in his fifth goal of the season.

The early finish took the steam out of LAFC’s intense push from the opening whistle, which was a point of emphasis for first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo, who has asked for more early output from his team as opposed to relying on strong second halves to lock down their league results.

Five times this year LAFC had conceded first but each time, save their only loss against the Galaxy, the Black & Gold recovered with resounding performances after the half in which they outscored opponents 13 to nothing.

That trend appeared to continue against the Eastern conference leaders.

In the 56th minute, Cristian Arango drove into the Philadelphia zone and picked out Jose Cifuentes standing near the top of the box. The Ecuadorian midfielder’s deft first touch placed the ball in the path of Kwadwo “Mahala” Opoku and the 21-year-old Ghanian forward leveled the score with a laser shot that buzzed by Blake inside the near post.

A trio of LAFC shots over the next few minutes made the anxious crowd pine for a go ahead goal, and it would come but not for them.

For the first time in 472 second half minutes, LAFC conceded when the Union stunned Banc of California Stadium’s barnstorming fans with a floating shot by Carranza in the 67th minute that curled past the arm of an outstretched Maxime Crepeau.

The league’s points leaders pressed to tie the match and came through in the 82nd minute after LAFC’s 11th corner kick of the contest. Jose Cifuentes headed a Vela corner down, forcing a sprawling save by Blake that redirected the ball in front of defender Franco Escobar, who buried the rebound for his first goal with LAFC.

Referee Jair Marrufo had his hands full in the final stage of the game as both teams charged up and down the field seeking a heroic conclusion that did not manifest.

The 2-2 result kept LAFC (7-1-2, 23 points) unbeaten in four matches against Philadelphia (5-1-4, 19 points), keeping the Black & Gold’s status as the only team the Union has played in MLS action that it has not earned three points against.

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