Newcomer Corey Baird stepped up to help LAFC's hobbled attack, breaking a scoreless tie in the 61st minute as the hosts defeated expansion Austin FC 2-0 on Saturday afternoon in the Major League Soccer opener for both teams.
LAFC goalie Pablo Sisniega, whose role as the starter was cemented when the club terminated the contract of Kenneth Vermeer on Friday, turned aside three Austin shots for the shutout, including a kick save against Austin's Jon Gallagher in the final minute.
The Black and Gold played most of the match without the past two Golden Boot winners, the league's leading goal-scorer.
Carlos Vela, who set a league-record with 34 goals in 2019, was subbed out in the 22nd minute after tweaking his right knee while lunging for a pass from Baird.
Vela, who missed most of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign because of the birth of a daughter and then a knee injury, didn't seem pleased with Bob Bradley's decision to replace him, quickly walking past his coach and pulling away from an attempted handshake on his way to the bench.
"When he went off the field, he had a look and gave me little indication and then he came over and it was almost like he wanted to try," Bradley explained after the match. "We still need to get to the bottom of it. There might be a little knot in there. Exactly what it means from here, hard to say.
"I can take responsibility if I make a move too fast. There is no problem for me saying that I jumped the gun too quickly, but it happens."
LAFC was also without last year's scoring champion, as Diego Rossi was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The Black and Gold had several chances before Baird put them ahead.
Stuver made a leaping save on LAFC's Diego Palacios in the game's opening minute and another on a shot by Baird in the 37th. Los Angeles' Eddie Segura put a header off the crossbar early in the second half.
Baird, the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year acquired in an offseason trade with Real Salt Lake, finally got LAFC on the board, taking a pass from Danny Musovski across the top of the 18-yard penalty area and putting a low shot from the top left corner of the box just inside the near post and out of reach of a diving Stuver.
While Austin had an edge in time of possession, LAFC outshot the visitors 24-12, including a 9-3 advantage in attempts on goal.