LAFC defeats Houston to clinch MLS playoff berth

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Football Club is spending the final games of the regular season focused on fine-tuning its game for the upcoming MLS playoffs, but the club is not yet playing like the contender Coach Bob Bradley expects his team to be.

Thanks to a pair of first-half goals, LAFC (9-7-4, 31 points) held off the visiting Houston Dynamo for a 2-1 win on Wednesday night at Banc of California Stadium and clinched a postseason berth.

With the win, Bradley moves into third place in MLS history with 170 career wins, trailing Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid.

The win was the second in a row for LAFC and the fourth in its past six games, but Bradley felt it wasn’t the best performance.

“It’s always good to take three points, but I didn’t believe we played well,” he said. “The second half, not just the second half, I don’t think we played well. We scored goals early. We were very careless, casual.

“We spoke about it at halftime. Started the second half and immediately allowed Houston right back into the game. Not enough guys really taking responsibility, being sharp enough. So tonight has got to be a game that we look at as a lesson. We’ve got two regular-season games left, and we’ve got to be harder on each other. We’ve got to raise the bar a little bit.”

Diego Rossi opened the scoring in the ninth minute, assisted by Mohameed El-Munir.

In the 22nd minute, Eddie Segura had the ball roll to his right foot just outside the 6-yard box, and he fired it into the net to give LAFC a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.

The game remained at 2-0 thanks to a penalty kick stop by goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer on Mauro Manotas.

After halftime, Houston broke through in the 46th minute on a goal by former L.A. Galaxy product Ari Lassiter.

Later, in the 59th minute, LAFC caught another break when Houston’s Matias Vera received his second yellow card and was sent off, leaving the Dynamo a man down for the remainder of the match.

LAFC nearly had a 3-1 lead in the 52nd minute, but Rossi was called offside after he finished the play with a simple tap-in.

Things eventually became a little too close for comfort for LAFC in the 86th minute when referee Ramy Touchan called a foul on Latif Blessing and pointed to the penalty spot. However, after taking a look at the video review, Touchan waived off the penalty, allowing LAFC to breathe a sigh of relief.

“We have high standards, and I don’t think a game like tonight is good enough in any way,” Bradley said. “Two regular-season matches left, you’ve really got to try to hit the playoffs with confidence, with sharpness and with a mentality that we’re a team that’s going to fight every game, play our football, compete, and try to move and get ourselves to a final and win an MLS Cup.

“So we were pretty critical after the game inside the locker room tonight because it’s a message that everyone has to understand.”

Despite the win, it wasn’t all good news for LAFC. The club announced at halftime that a player had tested positive for COVID-19. The testing was done Tuesday. All other players and members of the club underwent additional rapid testing before Wednesday’s game and returned negative tests.

Upon receiving the initial positive result, the player self-isolated and will remain in isolation and be monitored by the LAFC medical staff.

“Yes, we had a positive test,” Bradley said. “Our player was retested again today. We’ll wait for more information. Guys have done an excellent job throughout this whole thing, and so the club is doing all the right things, and hopefully we can move forward with that.”

LAFC next plays Sunday on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Lucky number 1⃣3⃣. #LAFCvHOU

— LAFC (@LAFC) October 29, 2020


🚫@kennethvermeer 🚫#LAFCvHOU 2-0

— LAFC (@LAFC) October 29, 2020

Offense, defense, @eddiesegura02 can do it all.

Replay presented by @Heineken_US. #LAFC

— LAFC (@LAFC) October 29, 2020

“Be sharp, train hard. When the team needs me I try to be there for them” @kennethvermeer after a clutch performance against Houston. #LAFC

— LAFC (@LAFC) October 29, 2020

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Galaxy continues downward spiral with a sixth consecutive loss

  • Los Angeles Galaxy forward Cristian Pavon (10) tries to recover the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy defender Emiliano Insua (3) vies for a header against San Jose Earthquakes forward Cristian Espinoza (10) during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

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  • Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) headers the ball against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy forward Yony Gonzalez (11) vies for a header against San Jose Earthquakes defender Tanner Beason (15) during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy forward Yony Gonzalez (11) looks for an open teammate against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy forward Cristian Pavon (10) brings the ball up the pitch against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez (14) maneuvers the ball around San Jose Earthquakes defender Tanner Beason (15) during the first half of a Major League Soccer match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. on Wednesday October 14, 2020. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)



CARSON — If last week’s loss to Portland was considered a low point by coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, then the Galaxy slipped even further Wednesday.

The Galaxy again turned in a listless performance at Dignity Health Sports Park and was played off the field by its Northern California rival as the San Jose Earthquakes won 4-0.

The loss was the sixth consecutive for the Galaxy (4-9-3), a team that is mired in last place, stuck on 15 points, in the Western Conference. The six-game losing streak is the longest for the Galaxy since 2007.

San Jose was in the Galaxy’s shoes just last month, but with the win, its fourth in the last five games, the Earthquakes (6-7-5, 23 points) have moved above the playoff line and into sixth place.

The questions facing the Galaxy front office after this performance is whether this group, with Schelotto in charge, can mount a late-season charge to save the season or is it time to make an in-season coaching change?

The Galaxy has six games remaining in the regular season, with a potential seventh, a makeup game with Colorado that has yet to be rescheduled.

The Galaxy’s troubles began early Wednesday as the Earthquakes took control of the game by creating chances and threatening the backline. In the 44th minute, their work paid off as Nick Lima opened the scoring as he found himself open after taking a pass from Andres Rios.

The Galaxy was lucky to be trailing only 1-0 at halftime. In the second half, things went from bad to worse.

San Jose went up 2-0 on a goal by Rios in the 52nd minute, and that was followed by Tommy Thompson with a top class strike from a tight angle from the right side of the goal.

Lima capped the night’s scoring with a shot from distance in the third minute of extra time.

The Galaxy managed just three shots on goal, and to complicate matters Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was subbed off in the 54th minute.

Jonathan Klinsmann got the start in goal for the Galaxy, replacing David Bingham. Since he joined the Galaxy in 2018, Bingham has started all but two games.


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Alexander: LAFC had a great regular season, but it’s not enough

LOS ANGELES — Strange things happen in the playoffs. LAFC was reminded of that again Tuesday night, in brutal fashion.

Brutal, as in the way Carlos Vela was banged, bounced, jolted and otherwise had his path impeded by the Seattle Sounders, who came in with a game plan to disrupt LAFC’s explosiveness and particularly its best player, and performed it brilliantly. Brutal, as in Latif Blessing being helped off the field twice late in the first half and eventually subbed out because of a leg injury.

Brutal, as many in Banc of California Stadium – including a lot of players wearing black jerseys – considered the eyesight of referee Jair Maruffo, pointing to two particular instances of apparent handballs that were overlooked by the eyes on hand and weren’t corrected, in their opinion, by the Video Assisted Refereeing system that is supposed to rectify such errors.

Brutal? It also describes the way L.A. fans have too often seen magnificent seasons end.

This time it was LAFC’s turn. It was overwhelmingly the best team in Major League Soccer during the regular season, setting records for standings points and goal differential. But in the unforgiving world of the postseason, the only numbers that counted were those on the scoreboard Tuesday night: Seattle 3, LAFC 1.

“Nobody expected this end to our season,” said Vela, the likely MLS MVP who was limited to one shot on Tuesday. “But we know in the playoffs it’s one game. And if they make some better plays than you, you’re out.

“I think in the end we have to be proud of (what) we’ve done all year, and learn. We have to learn. We’re just two years (as) a club, and there are a lot of things to improve. But I think we are in a good way. We have to see what happened. We have to change some things, get strong, come back next year and be better.”

It’s hard to imagine many things that needed changing throughout the first 38 games of 2019. But Tuesday night’s slog of a performance brought back memories of the first-round elimination by Real Salt Lake that ended their first season, or the club’s elimination by Portland in the U.S. Open Cup this past July, both also one-and-done situations.

The postseason is mercurial in any event. Walker Zimmerman talked earlier in the week about his experience in Dallas in 2016, when that club won the Supporters Shield for the best regular-season record but was ousted by Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals.

That was a two-leg series. Dallas gave up three goals in eight minutes of the second half of the first game in Seattle and wound up losing the series 4-2 on aggregate goals.

“Anything can happen in this game, especially in a one-game series – one bad bounce, one thing going their way,” Zimmerman noted earlier in the week. “But our job is to do our best to control every moment that we can, do everything we can to make sure none of those things happen.”

So what happened Tuesday night? Two Seattle goals in four minutes of the first half, by Raúl Ruidiaz and Nicolás Lodiero, and suddenly LAFC was in trouble. Ruidiaz scored again in the 64th minute and the Sounders were in complete control.

“We did well to get the lead (on Eduard Atuesta’s goal in the 17th minute), but I thought we gave up two soft goals,” midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “Credit Seattle for coming out with a game plan that made it tough for us. We spent the whole second half trying to chase the game. … If we hadn’t given up that third goal, I felt like we were pressuring and we were going to get that tying goal. That one kind of deflated us.”

This probably shouldn’t be as surprising as it seemed. Of the last 10 teams to win the Supporters Shield, just two have gone on to win the MLS Cup: the Galaxy in 2011 and Toronto FC in 2017.

This year’s change to a single-elimination format throughout the postseason, with the higher seed always at home, was born of necessity as a way to work around international play without killing the momentum of the playoffs. It has turned out to be a benefit competitively as well, although those in attendance Tuesday night might not agree. (Especially those who threw what appeared to be beer onto the field as things slipped away in the second half.)

The fact is, there should be pressure, and tension, and the risk of losing it all in 90 minutes. That’s the beauty of the North American postseason system. If you survive, you’ve earned it, and it means you were the best team when it mattered most, with the stakes at their highest.

“Anywhere else in the world you wouldn’t have anything like this, unless you’re fighting for promotion,” LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye said. “So it’s a different game when you enter the playoffs.

“We didn’t necessarily do the right things all the time, but I think we still tried to play our football, which is a positive thing. We didn’t try to stray from what we’re good at. But in games like this, you can’t let yourself go behind the game too early, because then you’re just trying to claw back the whole time and it’s a stressful period.

“… If we play this game 10 times, we probably win nine out of 10. But the playoffs are just different.”

There was some concern going in that LAFC, having survived a mega-intense battle with the crosstown rival Galaxy last Thursday to reach the conference semifinal, might let down its guard a little bit emotionally. That might have been a factor, though it was helped along by the Sounders’ intensity and physicality.

“It wasn’t a surprise to us at all,” Kaye said. “We knew coming into the game what it was going to be like, and we just didn’t match it enough throughout the game, even though we possessed the majority of the ball.”

It was a hard lesson. A team that some thought might be the best in MLS history instead left the field wondering what had hit them.

By then, again, a visiting team was celebrating on an L.A. field. Sometimes the postseason is simply cruel.

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Whicker: Adama Diomande’s return helps LAFC outlast nemesis Galaxy

LOS ANGELES — Adama Diomande was on the sideline, stretching, getting ready to change a game that had already changed drastically.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just dribbled a goal through Tyler Miller. The Galaxy had just tied LAFC 2-2 early in the second half of their MLS Western Conference semifinal.

It was done with urgency, as if the Galaxy knew who was coming in, and what he would be bringing. Either way, two goals weren’t enough.

“I was ticked,” Diomande said, approximately. “But I had a lot of energy.”

After Diego Rossi had drilled a smart, low shot into the far corner to make it 3-2, Diomande made two strong runs down the middle for goals that made it 4-2 and 5-3.

At that point, it resembled an NBA All-Star Game, with goals oozing through the turf, but when it ended LAFC had won its first-ever game against the Galaxy in six tries, 5-3, a scalp the organization desperately wanted even though there are two games left to win for the MLS Cup.

“It was nice to win this game, finally, finally,” Diomande said.

“Our guys watched them beat Minnesota (Sunday) and it was pretty clear they wanted the Galaxy,” Coach Bob Bradley said. “This was our time.”

This is past time for Diomande.

In September he entered the league’s voluntary program for substance abuse and behavioral problems. He was reinstated last week. He had scored eight goals with seven assists previously. To get him back for this match was like a prized bauble at some sort of trade deadline.

Diomande repeated that his problems weren’t chemical. “I don’t do alcohol, I don’t use drugs,” he said. “There were personal issues. I have a clearer mind now. I’m more motivated than I was when I left the team. I’d been working out all along, I haven’t lost anything since I left.”

Almost everyone in soccer is within six degrees of Bradley, the LAFC coach. He coached Diomande at Stabaek, a club team in Oslo, Norway, in 2015. Diomande scored 25 goals in 25 games. He is Norwegian, of parents who are from the Ivory Coast, but his extended family definitely includes Bradley.

“He’s like my father because my real father really wasn’t around,” Diomande said. “We’ve talked a lot during the last few weeks. He always gives me a lot of details about how to be better on the pitch. It’s great to have his support.”

“The last part of last year and the first part of this year, he was moodier than usual,” Bradley said. “Whenever someone has personal problems, it’s a challenge. What I think about is the support he’s had from his teammates. He’s a good guy, and it was a great thing to see him out there, and not just because he had two great goals.”

Would there be a chance for Diomande to get into the starting lineup?

“I think having Carlos (Vela) and Diego (Rossi) and Brian Rodriguez, we’re pretty interesting up front,” Bradley said.

A lot of teams find their offensive mojo against the Galaxy, a team that allowed 15 goals in its final four games and ends the season with a minus-3 goal differential. Ibrahimovic, who has more than once mentioned that he, not Vela, is best suited to be the league’s MVP, took a back seat to the LAFC star on Thursday, as Tristan Blackmon had most of the defensive responsibility against Zlatan.

Bradley said he told Blackmon “not to press” the Swedish striker so much because “The Lion” is so effective with balls in the air. But he also has encouraged Blackmon to “trust his instincts” and “be brave” when it comes time to make a play.

Most believe this was Ibrahimovic’s final game in MLS. No question he colorized the league with his startling play. He had 30 regular-season goals in 29 games during the season, at age 38.

He also left a frontal personality that, as he said, will be missed by reporters “who won’t have as much to write about.” The fact that he also left Banc of California Stadium with a crotch grab, directed toward LAFC fans, is part of the accompaniment.

Vela scored the first two goals, but he also assisted Rossi on the official game-winner after picking himself off the turf. Midfielders Latif Blessing and Lee Nguyen also were on point.

But even if the best team in the league didn’t need a fresh-legged pick-me-up, it has one now.

“There was a lot of room out there on the pitch,” Diomande said, and even when there wasn’t, he made his own.

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Rossi, Pérez help LAFC tie Orlando City

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Adrien Pérez scored his first MLS goal and Diego Rossi also connected to help Los Angeles FC tie Orlando City 2-2 on Saturday night.

Rossi, on the right flank, cut inside to evade a defender, and rolled a pass to Adama Diomande, who turned and led Rossi toward the top of the 6-yard box, where he slipped a shot past diving goalkeeper Brian Rowe to tie it in the 78th minute.

Los Angeles (19-4-6), which was without Carlos Vela for the second consecutive game, is winless in its last three matches — its longest such streak this season. Vela, who leads MLS with 27 goals this season, injured his hamstring in a 3-3 draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Aug. 25.

Pérez, a 23-year-old rookie making his first start and just his ninth appearance, first-timed a left-footer that deflected off the outstretched hand of Rowe into the net to open the scoring in the 12th minute. Luís Carlos “Nani” Almeida da Cunha immediately began his run after tapping the ensuing kickoff to Christian Higuiata, who played a long ball that led Nani to the top of the area where he chipped it over charging goalkeeper Tyler Miller into an open net to tie it moments later.

Benji Michel put away Ruan Carlos Gomes Costa da Silva’s low cross with a sliding first-timer from point-blank range to give Orlando City a 2-1 lead in the 20th minute.

Orlando (9-13-8) has just one win in its last five matches.

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Rossi, Blessing help LAFC beat Revolution

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing scored, Jordan Harvey had two assists and Los Angeles FC beat New England 2-0 on Saturday night to snap the Revolution’s 11-game unbeaten streak.

MLS-leading LAFC (16-3-4) has won five of its last six games.

Harvey’s long arcing pass led Rossi to the corner of the area where he chipped a soft floater over the head of goalkeeper Matt Turner into the side net in the eighth minute.

Harvey first-timed a low cross to Blessing, who patiently cut back to evade a defender before beating Turner from the top of the 6-yard box to cap the scoring in the 72nd.

Tyler Miller had one save in his seventh shutout of the season for LAFC, which outshot the Revolution 22-10.

New England (9-9-6) had won three in a row.

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Vako leads San Jose over Galaxy

STANFORD, Calif. — Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili scored early and the San Jose Earthquakes held on to beat the LA Galaxy 3-0 in the California Clasico on Saturday night.

Vako’s pass was blocked by a Galaxy player back to him and he sent a low hard shot from outside the area into the left corner in the 11th minute. Vako scored the Earthquakes’ last six goals in all competitions.

Shea Salinas broke Vako’s streak in the 82nd minute, settling a long pass from Vako and firing it inside the left post. Three minutes later, Tommy Thompson’s cross was redirected into the goal by the Galaxy’s Perry Kitchen to cap the scoring.

Daniel Vega preserved his fifth shutout of the season with a diving save to deny Efrain Álvarez in the 89th minute. The Earthquakes (7-6-4) improved their unbeaten streak to five.

There were 50,850 fans on hand at Stanford Stadium, setting an attendance record for the rivalry.

The Galaxy dropped to 10-7-1.

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Vela’s late goal helps LAFC to a tie with FC Dallas

FRISCO, Texas — Carlos Vela scored a late goal and Los Angeles FC rallied for a 1-1 tie with FC Dallas on Sunday night.

FC Dallas (5-5-3), which is winless in its last five games, played a man down after Matt Hedges was shown a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by Carlos Vela in the 49th minute.

Vela converted from the spot in the 80th, after having a penalty kick stopped by goalkeeper José Luis González in the 45th minute, to tie it at 1-all. Vela leads MLS with 14 goals this season.

Dominique Badji bent a low cross around defender Eddie Segura to a charging Ryan Hollingshead, who first-timed the finish from near the spot to make it 1-0 in the 29th minute.

LAFC (9-1-4), which beat FC Dallas 2-0 at home on Thursday, is unbeaten in its last six games.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic sparks late rally but Galaxy can’t catch FC Dallas

CARSON — After two weeks of positive vibes, the Galaxy got knocked down a peg by a familiar nemesis Wednesday night, but it didn’t come without a late stretch of madness.

Despite a two-goal second-half performance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a late man-advantage, the Galaxy (5-7-1, 16 points) was unable to rally, falling to FC Dallas 3-2 in front of 18,003 at StubHub Center.

“Of course, when you lose, it is not positive thoughts going through your head,” said Ibrahimovic, who has five goals since joining the team. “It is never good when you lose. We have to change …today we play at home, we’re losing 3-0, we come (back) to 3-2, but it’s nothing else.

“Every game cannot be lose 2-0, 3-0 and you have to catch the game and try to win. It doesn’t work like that. We need to be leading team and play from there, not to catch the goal all of the time

Trailing by two goals and playing eight minutes of added time, Ibrahimovic scored in the seventh minute to trim the deficit to one.

When asked if there was anything he could take from the performance, Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid was blunt.


“From the standpoint of it followed a pattern that we had prior to the last two games (both wins),” he said. “We’re a team that’s always going to find goals, we found goals, we probably should have found more in the second half, but it is a lot easier to find goals when you’re playing at 0-0 than it is when you’re down by two and by three.

“The performance defensively, was not acceptable.”

Schmid took part of the blame for the performance.

After consecutive 1-0 wins, he made several changes to the back four, sitting Michael Ciani and Dave Romney, reinserted Ashley Cole at left back, Daniel Steres at right back and rookie Tomas Hilliard-Arce at center back.

The Galaxy was also without the Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos, who are preparing for the World Cup with the Mexican national team and don’t figure to return until the end of July.

“I thought with the game coming up at Portland (Saturday) we needed to make sure we had some guys who were fresh,” Schmid said. “The first thing I’m going to do is analyze if I made the right decisions, but obviously there are opportunities, we’ve got more than 11 players on this team and when your number is called, you’ve got to be ready.

“Our intensity, our desire, our drive, the determination in the first 15-20 minutes of the game was not good.”

As has become custom with this group, once down a goal or two, the Galaxy turned up the heat as they chased the game late in the second half.

The Galaxy thought it had scored its first goal in the 62nd minute, but Ibrahimovic was ruled offside.

A minute or so later, Ibrahimovic came close again, this time with a header from a cross from Ola Kamara, but he headed the ball down at the feet of Jesse Gonzalez, who easily smothered it.

Ibrahimovic finally got the Galaxy on the board in the 69th minute, slotting home a perfectly placed pass from Sebastian Lletget.

Trailing by two, things became unhinged from there.

Dallas’ Cristian Colman was sent off in the 80th minute with a straight red card after a skirmish with several Galaxy players, who took issue with perceived time-wasting by several Dallas players.

With the man advantage, the Galaxy appeared to have forced Dallas (6-1-5, 23 points) into a handball penalty as the ball hit Maynor Figueroa in the penalty box in the 81st minute.

However, no call was awarded nor was the play reviewed, drawing the ire of the Galaxy and its fans. In the 85th minute, Romain Alessandrini’s blast from 20 yards hit the post.

After all of the frustrations with the officials and no-calls, the Galaxy found itself on the short end of another 3-2 defeat, losing to Dallas for the second time in less than three weeks.

“I want to win the games,” Ibrahimovic said. “I was suspended the last game (against Montreal). Today I got to play and I just wanted to go in and play, help my teammates and the club get the win, but obviously, it was not enough.”

Ryan Hollingshead scored in the 33rd minute – ending a 251-minute shutout streak for the Galaxy, the longest in nearly two years – and Colman knocked in a header in the 40th. Both goals were set up by Dallas’ quick passing game, engineered by Mauro Diaz.

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