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LAFC 2022 season preview

Bounce-back year for the black and gold?

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Typically, with a new season comes new expectations, unless you're in LA. Those expectations never change. For LAFC, they are once again amongst the favorites to lift MLS Cup come season’s end. After missing the playoffs last year — the first time in their brief history that it’s happened — the team look to bounce back in a big way in 2022. While they lost several key players to transfers during the offseason, they did bring in some fresh, young, and heavily MLS experienced talent to not only fill in the holes, but improve the squad enough to take that next step into what is being called LAFC Era 2.0.

LAFC (12-13-9 , 9th in Western Conference, Missed Playoffs)

Head Coach : Steve Cherundolo (first year)

Best reason to pay attention: First-year head coach Steve Cherundolo, and forward Cristian ‘Chicho’ Arango. Whether you love LAFC or enjoy watching them fall flat on their face, this season will be of interest to you. With a new MLS head coach this can go either surprisingly well, or possibly horrible. Luckily for LAFC fans, Cherundolo spent the last year working within the club, so this group isn't completely foreign to him. There’s also Arango, who just had his first full preseason with the club. Arriving to the club midseason last year, he netted 14 goals in just 17 appearances. Now that he has a whole offseason under his belt, expect even more goals to flow.

Projected Best XI: (4-3-3) Maxime Crépeau; Franco Escobar, Jesus David Murillo, Mamadou Fall, Diego Palacios; Kellyn Acosta, Ilie Sánchez, Jose Cifuentes; Brian Rodríguez, Carlos Vela, Cristian Arango.

LAFC’s last preseason match was the best early look at what will most likely be the Starting XI going into the season. Another name to watch for is Eddie Segura. The defender is coming off an ACL injury from last season, so the team might take it slow with him, but should he return to his previous form, he'll be breaking into the Starting XI in no time.

Key additions: Maxime Crépeau, Kellyn Acosta, Ilie Sánchez, Ryan Hollingshead

Key losses: Eduard Atuesta, Diego Rossi, Pablo Sisniega

Best offseason move: GK Maxime Crépeau. While midfielder Kellyn Acosta arrives to the club with a bigger name, and more attention on him as a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s the Canadian international Crépeau who is the best addition to the club. The past several years have seen LAFC struggle to find a legitimate No. 1 to put between the posts, despite a handful being tried out over the years. Crépeau is one of the top three goalkeepers in the entire league. Going from having no No. 1, with goalkeeper your weakest position, to suddenly adding a top three keeper, is a massive upgrade. Taking into account position need, and the quality brought in, Crépeau should prove to be the move of the offseason for the black-and-gold.

One glaring weakness: The biggest weakness for LAFC heading into the new campaign isn't so much a position, as much as it the intangibles. Having massively upgraded the goalkeeper position, maintained the core of the defense, retained the top goalscorers from last season, and done well enough to fill in the holes left by midfield departures, there isn't a weak position. However, the weakness lies in the unfamiliarity of the group. Cherundolo is entering his first year as an MLS head coach, and while the additions made to the squad are great on paper, we all know in sports building chemistry takes time. This is a revamped LAFC team from what we've seen in years past. While the talent is there, the biggest question is how will this team work together? Will Cherundolo be able to get the very best out of this roster? With Carlos Vela looking healthy heading into the season, how will he do fitting in with Arango, and youngster Kwadwo Opoku? If they can iron out the inevitable growing pains quickly, they will be on track to one hell of a redemption year.

One fact to impress friends: Cherundolo may be in his first year as an MLS head coach, but just last season he was the manager of LAFC USL affiliate Las Vegas Lights. Having spent a year learning and processing the inner workings of the club should, in theory, help him as he embarks on this new adventure.

Marvel character this team embodies: Iron Man. With the popularity of the Marvel movies, it’s hard to say any character is hated or disliked, especially of the core Avengers. However, in the comics, Tony Stark’s Iron Man is unanimously disliked by everyone. He comes across as a snarky, braggadocios, know-it-all who uses his insane wealth to get what he wants, when he wants. He knows he's smart, and capable, and makes sure everyone else knows it too. That's LAFC. They are the ‘darlings’ of the MLS, and until last season, had good reason to be viewed as such. They have been successful since their arrival to the MLS and have used all their resources and funds to keep that success going. They aren't shy about letting you know their goals, ambitions, and how they think they are one of the best organizations in the league. Tony Stark found some redemption during the MCU movie arc, as he ultimately learned to trust his team, lead with kindness, and use the snark as comedic relief. Unfortunately, I don't see the same arc for the black-and-gold. Chances are they'll never be universally loved, and they’re okay with that.

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