LAFC rallies to tie Houston Dynamo in MLS Is Back tournament

Major League Soccer is back from its long COVID-19 suspension. At least that’s the name the league gave its reboot tournament.

But LAFC showed up an hour late for the restart, spotting the Houston Dynamo a two-goal halftime lead before rallying for a hard-earned 3-3 tie Monday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports

The game, played with no fans and even less atmosphere, was the first in 126 days for LAFC, the longest pause in the franchise’s brief history. Even the team’s first offseason break lasted just 121 days.

And the rust showed with poor defensive plays leading to a pair of first-half goals by Memo Rodriguez scores and another by Alberth Elis.

LAFC, playing without Carlos Vela, the reigning league MVP who skipped the tournament to stay home with his pregnant wife, controlled the pace and possession from the opening whistle, outshooting Houston 23-9, controlling the ball for more than an hour and completing more than twice as many passes as Houston attempted.

But it still fell behind in the ninth minute when Rodriguez collected a poor Tristian Blackmon clearance, deked Latif Blessing into the air and dribbled around him to create space before one-hopping a right-footed shot just inside the near post from the top of the box.

LAFC pulled that back 11 minutes later when a low Diego Rossi cross from the left side of the penalty area found a sliding Bradley Wright-Phillips charging straight up the middle into the six-yard box. Phillips, making his LAFC debut in place of Vela, got just enough of his right foot on the ball to deflect it in for his first MLS goal in more than a year.

Rodriguez restored the lead in the 30th minute, beating Blackmon to a soft Zarek Valentin chip in the center of the box. Rodriguez’s first shot was smothered by LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer but the rebound bounced right back to Rodriguez, who nudged the ball into the goal with his body.

Houston tacked on another goal just before the intermission, and it too came off a defensive mistake, with Elis slipping away from LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye and Dejan Jakovic to nod home Darwin Quintero’s long free kick on a big bounce.

LAFC never quit though and was rewarded for that tenacity in the 63rd minute when Rossi, left with too much space at the top of the box, drilled a right-foot shot from the left wing into the side netting to half the Houston lead.

The Dynamo sagged noticeably after that goal and six minutes later Brian Rodriguez completed the comeback, running on to a Blessing feed and beating Houston keeper Marko Maric to the far side from nearly the same spot to tie the score.

Group-play games in the MLS Is Back tournament count in the regular-season standings and with the draw LAFC remains unbeaten at 1-0-2 while Houston is 0-1-2.