Guzan shines as Atlanta United ends match vs. LAFC with another draw

San Jose and Atlanta United players enter the pitch before the MLS season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Atlanta. Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

San Jose and Atlanta United players enter the pitch before the MLS season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Atlanta. Jason Getz /

LOS ANGELES — Rarely has Brad Guzan ever had to work so hard to earn a point.

The 38 year-old Atlanta United keeper, in his 150th career regular-season appearance for the Five Stripes, earned his 50th career MLS clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with LAFC at BMO Stadium. To keep the reigning champs off the scoresheet, Guzan fell one short of his MLS career-high with eight saves.

“Sometimes, it comes off like this as a goalkeeper,” Guzan said. “Last week, [I] didn’t help the team, and had to bounce back. Tonight, I was able to make some saves and keep the clean sheet and help us get an important point on the road in a game where, for sure in the second half, we were second best.”

Guzan originally was credited with a ninth save after preventing what would have been an own goal. Regardless of the tally, Guzan claimed crosses, made multiple point-blank saves, stopped a penalty, and did all but stand on his head to keep LAFC off the scoresheet. LAFC ended the game with 2.3 expected goals.

“Our backs were against the wall,” Guzan said, “but to stay strong and stand tall and come up with some saves, I was happy to play my part.”

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda was pleased with the defensive effort from the entire back line, especially coming after last Wednesday’s 3-3 draw with New England. However, he was less happy with the attack, as Atlanta United failed to record a shot on target. It was shut out for the first time all season.

“I think today, especially the second half, probably we didn’t play our best football,” Pineda said. “... We didn’t get in the areas that we wanted in the final third, for as much possession we had in the first half. And then, when we got there, I think we picked the wrong choices.”

However, he still saw positives in the performance.

“I think at times, you have to have this type of performance, especially playing in the other conference,” Pineda said. “It’s not easy to travel and everything we go through. We have to respect the opponent. They are a very good team. They have very good players. And I think today, defensively, the team looks very good.”

LAFC dominated chances despite fielding a weakened side after a defeat Sunday in the CONCACAF Champions League final. It cut off Atlanta United’s attacking chances before they could even develop, controlling the middle of the field and forcing the Five Stripes to play wide.

A battle between two of MLS’s top goal scorers in Atlanta United’s Giorgos Giakoumakis and LAFC’s Denis Bouanga failed to develop. Bouanga had the best chances, while Giakoumakis failed to make an impact before being substituted in the 75th minute.

Atlanta United struggled to create meaningful possession. It held the ball for long periods early in the first half, but several turnovers forced Guzan into his first save, a relatively comfortable diving stop in the 14th minute.

The first real chance came in the 22nd minute. Off a long diagonal to the corner of the six yard box, Guzan came out and spread wide to block a Mateusz Bogusz volley, keeping the match scoreless.

Guzan was kept busy. In the 34th minute, he dove to block a shot from Kwadwo Opoku at his near post.

LAFC spent the final 10 minutes of the first half peppering Guzan’s net. The Atlanta United captain was forced into several diving saves, finishing the half with five. On the sole occasion when he did not make the save, Juan Jose Purata cleared the ball off the line.

“Games like tonight, they’re probably a little bit more stressful,” Guzan said, “but these games are probably somewhat fun in terms of all the action and whatnot.”

The second half looked to be more of the same. Several early shots missed the frame, including a Bouanga header under pressure that went inches wide.

Momentum shifted further in LAFC’s favor when manager Steve Cherundolo brought Carlos Vela off the bench. Vela immediately ran underneath a through ball and drove at Guzan, but the goalkeeper made a kick save. The flag was raised for offsides, but the message was sent.

“Carlos is a good player,” Guzan said. “He’s demonstrated that over the years, both here at LAFC and with the (Mexican) national team. His career speaks for itself.”

Vela’s biggest impact came minutes later when Purata, trying to contain LAFC’s star, looked to prevent a cross from reaching him. The defender dragged Vela down, giving LAFC a penalty and forcing Guzan to be the hero yet again.

Atlanta United’s captain did his best to put Vela off and did, saving the initial penalty. However, the referees adjudicated that Guzan’s foot was over the line. Vela’s second attempt was sent over the bar, to Guzan’s delight and the dismay of LAFC’s supporters.

Substitute Ajani Fortune had Atlanta United’s best chance of the night in the 84th when a cross found him open at the edge of the 6-yard box. His first touch shot went just wide of the near post. Fortune’s shot was one of four for Atlanta United, almost 10 shots less than the season average and fewer than all but one of the team’s games this season.

Bouanga got close to grabbing a winner in the 86th minute, as a half volley from close range clanged off the post.

Caleb Wiley played the final 10 minutes plus added time in his return from international duty. The 18-year-old played 69 minutes Sunday in the under-20 World Cup in Argentina, as the US lost 2-0 in the quarterfinals to Uruguay.

Atlanta United will be in action on Saturday against DC United (6-5-6) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (1:30 p.m., Apple TV).