LOS ANGELES (AP) — Giorgio Chiellini only got gold medals and trophies as rewards for his nine straight Serie A titles with Juventus, so he was dazzled by the glittering black-and-gold MLS championship ring put on his finger Saturday by Los Angeles FC.
“That was a little bit weird for me,” he said with a chuckle. “But it was nice.”
LAFC’s chase for a second ring is off to a strong start after the 38-year-old Italian great turned in a vintage performance.
Chiellini scored his first MLS goal and LAFC opened its defense of its first league title with a 3-2 victory over the Portland Timbers.
Carlos Vela and Mahala Opoku also scored after LAFC unveiled its championships banners and handed out those rings during a lively pregame ceremony at sold-out BMO Stadium. Retired Welsh forward Gareth Bale and injured goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau carried the MLS Cup onto the field where they won it four months ago.
Banners celebrating LAFC’s two Supporters’ Shield titles and its 2022 Western Conference and MLS Cup championships were unveiled above the east stands during the pregame festivities.
“It was very good, and it will remain in my memories for all time,” Chiellini said. “But after the celebration, we have to play, and we did the first 60 minutes very well. We have to learn from our mistakes in the last 30 minutes.”
After appearing in 11 matches last year as a midseason arrival, Chiellini got his second MLS season off to a strong start with a superb defensive game and his first goal in any competition since August 2019 for Juventus. He opened the scoring for LAFC in the 24th minute when he deftly flicked home a loose ball in the box with the outside of his right foot.
“Best player on the field tonight,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “A step ahead of everybody else. It’s fun to watch and a privilege to coach.”
Chiellini said his goal celebration was dedicated to Davide Astori, his friend and former Italy teammate who died in 2018 before a match for Fiorentina.
“I would like to celebrate with him, and he’s always on my mind,” Chiellini said.
LAFC improved to 6-0-0 in season openers, matching Dallas as the only MLS clubs to achieve that feat in their first six openers. Los Angeles also became only the second defending MLS Cup champion to win its opener in the past seven years despite nearly blowing a 3-0 lead built during an excellent start on the momentum of that pregame ceremony.
“The feeling was really great, having my first trophy as a professional player,” Opoku said. “I want to get more. The ring is so beautiful. You say to yourself, ‘If you do more, you get more.’”
Evander, the Brazilian midfielder who joined Portland in December from Midtjylland, scored his first MLS goal, while Cristhian Paredes added a late score in the Timbers’ third straight loss to LAFC.
Vela coolly converted a penalty in the 34th minute after Opoku was fouled in the box. Opoku then ripped a goal past David Bingham in the 52nd minute.
Paredes scored in the 84th minute when John McCarthy, LAFC’s MLS Cup MVP goalkeeper, ventured too far from his own net while defending a corner.
LAFC rested Vela and Spanish star Ilie Sánchez in the 65th minute. This match was the first of five in 15 days for LAFC, including two CONCACAF Champions League games.
LAFC’s scheduled season opener at the Rose Bowl against the LA Galaxy last week was postponed by severe rainstorms.
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