LAFC couldn't be in a better position going into the final day of the 2022 MLS regular season. As it stands, they just secured their second Supporters’ Shield in five years, they cemented the top spot in the Western Conference after spending most of the season there, first-round bye week as well as home field advantage until they are either knocked out of the playoffs or lift the MLS Cup for the first time. As much as we hate to say something like in sports, as every game is typically meaningful in some capacity, the match this weekend is essentially meaningless for LAFC.
That felt dirty to write, but it's true. A loss wouldn't change their seeding, and with the Shield already in possession, the points total doesn't matter. Especially with no MLS records on the line. In reality, this is more friendly than MLS match, but decisions must still be made. Decisions that could very well impact the most important part of the year for the black-and-gold.
The match itself will be a tough one against Western Conference newcomers Nashville SC, also the current home to former LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman. This will be just the second time these two teams met, with LAFC getting the 2-1 win earlier this year. Nashville will also be looking to improve upon their seeding and ensure they don't get leap-frogged by the teams below them should they lose. For LAFC though, they face a decision on how to approach this match.
Conventional sports wisdom says you should rest your regular starters, star players, and those who make an impact, on the final day when you don't have anything important on the line. However, LAFC are in a bit of a pickle there as the benefit to doing so well throughout the season, is earning a first-round bye, meaning a week of rest to start the postseason regardless. So do you rest players now, as well as during the bye week, essentially having two weeks off from competitive action right before the playoffs? Considering the month LAFC have had, it’s probably not the best idea risking form.
The flip side to that coin of course, is putting out your better players, also putting them at risk of injury which would be absolutely devastating for this team going into the postseason. The biggest key to LAFC’s success this year has been their ability to stay healthy with very few players missing time, and none suffering a long-term injury thankfully. It may sound extreme but an injury of any kind, to any player could be catastrophic for the club's run. While many may not like American soccer following the footsteps of their other sports and putting the league championship at the end of playoffs and not as a reward for finishing the season with the most points, this is how it is. And LAFC are a team that are in dire need of securing their first-ever MLS Cup.
Head Coach Steve Cherundolo will have his work cut out for him this weekend. So far this season he has nailed every beat in terms of substitutes, when to play guys, and when they should sit out. That experience will be most crucial Sunday. A loss may not matter past the obvious questions of form, and focus going into the postseason. A win, especially with a team featuring young players and those who may not see as many minutes, could provide the kind of spark and momentum that fuels a championship run. Decisions, decisions, but if there's one thing Cherundolo has proven so far this year, it's that he's made all the right ones so far.
How would you handle the season finale? Leave a comment below!