It’s finally here! The time has come where we can officially wipe our minds from how last season went, and truly get excited for what's ahead in 2022. LAFC players and staff arrived at the familiar training facility on Tuesday, as they team begin preparations for the season ahead.
We won't sit here and tell you all about how disappointing 2021 was for the black-and-gold. There are plenty of archived articles — as I've written extensively about it — should you feel the need to wallow one last week. Instead, we've wiped the slate clean and have a whole new list of expectations for the club now officially out of their “inaugural era” and into era LAFC 2.0.
New Mayor in LA
No, this has nothing to do with any type of renewed recalls going on in the world of local government, but refers to the arrival of the new man in charge at LAFC. Steve Cherundolo, also referred to as “The Mayor,” based on his nickname when he played at Hannover 96, was announced just weeks ago as the one to replace former head coach Bob Bradley. While not a household name, one that LAFC fans will know, as he was brought into the fold ahead of last season, and was named head coach of USL Championship affiliate, Las Vegas Lights.
LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said this week that it was Cherundolo’s experience within the organization that set him apart from many of the other candidates. Despite having no experience as a head coach in the MLS, or any top league around the world for that matter, Cherundolo takes the helm of one of the most talked about teams in the league, in one of the most spoiled markets in all of sports.
What Cherundolo may lack in experience, it is important to remember that he does know the club. He’s spent a year not just with players in the starting XI, but just as importantly, he's spent plenty of time with the young stars within the squad. “There won’t be very much change, change on the sideline of course, but I am also a face players have seen over the past year,” said Cherundolo during his introductory press conference. He also comes with plenty within the soccer world praising his ability to develop young talent. Another critical aspect for an LAFC squad that has a handful of young, extremely talented players, who will be looking to take that next step for the black-and-gold.
Not saying rebuild, but...
One of the most striking part of Cherundolo’s press conference was his assessment of where the club are heading into the new season.
“I don’t think we’re in the middle of a rebuild, first and foremost. There will be changes, as there are in every season, and that is something that is natural, and normal in this industry” stressed Cherundolo when asked about his approach to LAFC’s ‘rebuild.’
It’s a sentiment shared by Thorrington. In recent interviews he has echoed the thoughts of the new head coach, and explained that rebuild wasn't the right word and that the roster is “not undergoing a revolution, but evolution.” That’s fair.
The facts are, this is a club coming into the season with a new head coach — along with several new assistant coaches and other staff members — as well as having to fill in holes after losing three star-caliber players, along with several solid role players. Regardless of how you spin it, this is a team that has officially moved on from one era, and are ready to for a fresh start to some degree, in 2022.
Expectations remain the same
Even when fresh off the worst season in the club’s brief history, the most talked about team in MLS, remains as such. LAFC open up the season — along with New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders — as favorites to win the MLS Cup in 2022. While fans may not be as convinced as they were ahead of the 2021 campaign, make no mistake, this is still a team expected to lift the MLS Cup within the next 2-3 years.
With a healthy Carlos Vela, a full offseason for the likes of Mamadou Fall, Kim Moon-Hwan, and Cristian Arango, this team is still very capable, in spite of recent departures. Not to mention the new additions to the squad, 2021 MLS Cup Champion, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta. Even in an increasingly competitive Western Conference, anything short of a playoff appearance this season will be unacceptable.
Now, in terms of preseason games, LAFC kickoff preseason matches January 29th, at Banc of California Stadium, against the Revolution. After a meeting against Bob Bradley’s Toronto FC on February 2, they will also participate in a pre-season exhibition held in Indio, California, against D.C. United (February 15) and New York Red Bulls (February 19). It will be the first glance we get at LAFC 2.0 and the official start to the Steve Cherundolo era. There’s a long season ahead of us, but the time has come to get the bad taste of 2021 out our mouths, and move forward into what is hopefully a far more successful, and a lot more fun, 2022 campaign.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!