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LAFC go for the known — and unknown — with Steve Cherundolo

Will he be the man to take the club forward?

Hannover 96 v SC Freiburg - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Kaletta/Bongarts/Getty Images

When LAFC and Bob Bradley decided to part ways after the 2021 season, the club vowed to make a thorough search for their next head coach. Over a month of said search led...right back to their own door, as they unveiled Steve Cherundolo as the club’s second-ever head coach on Monday.

The takes — positive, negative, and everything in between — are flying, and understandably so. And while it would be silly to make sweeping generalizations about Cherundolo’s suitability to push LAFC forward, from this moment, before he’s managed a game for the black-and-gold, there’s some initial conclusions to draw from this appointment.

LAFC: The system

LAFC’s identity on the field has up to this point been entirely linked to Bradley. Given his track record of success, particularly in MLS, it made sense for Bradley to be allowed to mold the club’s playing style in a way he chose. Throughout four seasons, Bradley defended his choice to play three two-way midfielders, his insistence on goalkeepers who could play with the ball at their feet well, his pedal-to-the-metal attacking style and the attendant drawbacks that sacrificed at times on the defensive end.

It worked until it didn’t, but regardless of your opinion on any of those tactical decisions plus a bunch more, Bradley’s aggression helped push MLS forward. It led to a Supporters’ Shield, and nearly the Concacaf Champions League, too.

Now, it’s going to be interesting to see what changes under Cherundolo. Will he play exactly like Bradley’s teams did? I doubt it. Will there be some connecting links? Unquestionably. I imagine LAFC’s front office and ownership want him to maintain an attacking style of play, but they probably would be fine if he’s a like more pragmatic in terms of balance to get results, too.

But Thorrington name-checked LAFC’s “philosophy,” and it will be interesting to see which elements of the club are consistent regardless of the coach and which change depending on who’s leading the first team. LAFC aren’t a Red Bull-type organization and I don’t see a dogmatism in terms of style of play. But this is a moment to observe just what makes LAFC what it is, besides the jerseys being worn.

Perhaps they aren’t far away?

LAFC have lost and will be losing some key pieces over the last year: Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, and possibly Carlos Vela sooner than later. But they’ve also got some good pieces already on the roster.

In 2021, LAFC clearly seemed to be in a malaise, and a few major injuries really tested the team’s depth, but throughout the season, they were well outperforming their results according to the advanced stats. Obviously a year-long slump that busts the projections may point to issues with the projections themselves, and a disappointing year it certainly was, but that hints at the possibility that LAFC don’t need a full teardown and are actually not too far away from being contenders again.

Changing the manager, especially the departure of as big a personality as Bradley, is a massive shift in itself. But in choosing continuity in Cherundolo, who worked with Bradley last year as Las Vegas Lights FC head coach, it appears LAFC are banking on a “retooling” rather than a rebuilding. Perhaps other suitable coach targets would have required another year or two of mediocre to poor results, and LAFC think they can turn things around quickly with Cherundolo and hopefully a handful of impact signings to come.

He’s an unknown, but working for this

Cherundolo has never been head coach of a top flight side before. Maybe he’ll be the next great American coach. Maybe he’ll be a disaster. It’s all unknown at this point.

Cherundolo’s record in Las Vegas was woeful, but that’s somewhat beside the point considering Las Vegas were fielding mostly kids and the competition in the USL Championship was some of the deepest independent teams in the league. And after a very bumpy start to the season, they did find some rhythm for a little while before the wheels fell off and teams more or less expected an easy three points each time out.

I think it’s normal to wonder if Cherundolo has the temperament to succeed as a head coach. With just one season under his belt as head coach at the pro level, it’s the same question every newish coach would face. Some people can hack it, and some can’t.

At the same time, while it makes sense to wonder if Cherundolo will be the right choice to make the step up to be LAFC’s manager, it’s worth remembering he’s been putting in the work to get ready for this moment. Since retiring, he’s served as an assistant coach, at Hannover 96, Stuttgart, the U.S. Men’s National Team and the Germany U-15 National Team, and he’s been youth coach at Hannover, and then had the season in Las Vegas. He’s got the UEFA Pro License — an unusual license for Americans to hold and a respected badge around the world. He’s done the homework, literally. So as far as preparing for the moment, Cherundolo has done just about everything you would abstractly want in a new head coach.

If Cherundolo works out, Thorrington’s succession plan is going to be seen as a great success, and if it doesn’t, it will be seen as a huge blunder by the club. It’s a lot of pressure, but hey, it’s the truth. The appointment is made, the manager has prepared for this job, and now we’ll see how it all comes together.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.