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Can LAFC bounce back in 2022?

After a year of tough luck, will they surge again?

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There are two schools of thought regarding LAFC in 2021: They were bad, or they were unlucky.

The truth is likely in the middle. Between injuries and other absences, a general feeling of malaise, and a lack of depth for a second season, something was definitely off last year. At the same time, the underlying advanced stats showed all year long that LAFC were performing better than the results were indicating, and they genuinely had a full season of tough luck.

Whatever the case, last season is last season and on Saturday, LAFC start the new campaign, at The Banc against the Colorado Rapids. Hopefully COVID isn’t as intrusive as it’s been the last two years and no other man-made events or acts of the soccer gods disrupt the marathon in 2022. And from there, it’s all on LAFC to come back. Can they?

On paper, LAFC have addressed most of their issues from last season. They got a bonafide No. 1 goalkeeper in Maxime Crepeau, starting-caliber midfielders in Kellyn Acosta and Ilie Sanchez, starting-caliber center back reinforcement through Doneil Henry, and at worst rotation starters at fullback (with the potential for positional flexibility) in Ryan Hollingshead and Franco Escobar. On top of that, John McCarthy is an experienced backup goalkeeper, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is a starting-caliber attacker who is also comfortable coming off the bench.

Add them to the returning players — Carlos Vela, Cristian Arango and Brian Rodriguez in attack, Latif Blessing and Francisco Ginella in midfield, Kim Moon-hwan, Mamadou Fall, Jesus David Murillo, Eddie Segura and Diego Palacios in defense, and on paper this team has lots of talent. Lots.

There are a few big questions coming into 2022, naturally, however:

Can Steve Cherundolo get LAFC back to contender status in short order?

This is the biggest question of all, replacing a Hall of Fame coach with someone stepping up to this level for the first time. All successful coaches need a club to take a leap of faith with them first, and obviously LAFC hope he’s the next successful coach. But Cherundolo’s role in all of this is by far the biggest question coming into the season. If he’s able to galvanize the team and juggle his many responsibilities, 2021 may just be a bad dream. If he isn’t, buckle up.

Will LAFC play a more balanced style?

It’s fun to watch 5-4 games when your team wins them. It’s not fun to watch your team lose 6-2. Bob Bradley had an unusual way of playing in MLS, that added many good things to the table and took off some big elements. Attack-first soccer is the goal for most teams, and LAFC certainly know how to play that way. But once their finishing became wayward, in 2021, the defensive liabilities we knew came from the high-octane system just wrecked the team. Early indications are that Cherundolo won’t be making huge changes to start his tenure, and for the sake of continuity, that may be prudent. But please, do not leave outmatched defenders on an island a dozen times a game any longer, unless the team is already winning 4-0 in the 85th minute, I guess. Maybe make it a bit more balanced, is all I’m saying.

Was 2021 truly unlucky or a long-term regression to the mean?

If we all agree that 2019 was a “best-case scenario” year for LAFC’s style of play in terms of outcome over a regular season, and we can throw away 2020 — featuring a long break in the season, injuries, fixture congestion and a COVID outbreak at playoff time — out the window, then perhaps 2021 was actually a regression to the mean of LAFC’s “true” level? I realize that a result is what it is, if it’s merited or not, and every team benefits from a kind bounce or two and suffers from a bad call now and again, but there is a possibility that rather than penciling in LAFC as back in contender status heading into the season, maybe they’re just pretty good, and they hit the ultimate hot streak in 2019. Maybe instead of considering them good, we should set our expectations at “decent?”

That’s an admittedly pessimistic read, and I maintain hope that LAFC are going to be quite a bit better this year compared to last. But this is all in the realm of the theoretical, and the games become real starting this weekend. We’ll see if the 2022 version of LAFC can be good again soon enough.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.