It’s all been leading up to this.
LAFC have been in the middle of fixture congestion the past couple weeks, and that will continue until the league hits a break next month for the international break. In a jam-packed May, they’ll play eight games, six in the league and two in the U.S. Open Cup. That’s a game a little under every four days.
Obviously, it’s been the first month this year where the black-and-gold have wobbled, with a 2W-2L-1D record in league play, when previously this season they had only drawn and lost once each. But they advanced in their previous Open Cup game, against that competition’s rivals, the Portland Timbers, before being drawn against the true archrivals, the LA Galaxy, in Wednesday’s Round of 16 clash.
But I think LAFC will take the record in league play for the month...if they win Wednesday against the Galaxy.
Even though LAFC lead the Supporters’ Shield race and won’t want to blow that, they’re only a third of the way through a marathon in that competition. Sitting here, in May, the priority has to be on progressing through the Open Cup. And it has been.
Head coach Steve Cherundolo has been rotating his squad lately, to mixed results. In the road loss at the Colorado Rapids, the changes were too much and LAFC were flat on the day. But again, that was coming out of the USOC win over the Timbers, so fair enough. The following midweek, he used a pretty strong XI, with only a couple players not considered first choice, but it came up short against a motivated Austin FC side. But this past weekend, in the following game, Cherundolo made big rotations again, hedged his bets by bringing Carlos Vela on around the hour mark, and it worked, with the team barely holding on to a clean sheet before Vela scored the winner shortly after entering the field.
On Wednesday, I expect the strongest available lineup to start for LAFC. Kellyn Acosta is delaying his trip to join the U.S. Men’s National Team, for example, and while there’s been some rotation in the fullback and forward spots this season among the “first choice” group, I don’t expect any surprises in the XI.
This game against the Galaxy is huge — one team must win the knockout match, and that team advances in the U.S. Open Cup, while the other’s dreams of winning the domestic cup are over. LAFC have never beaten the Galaxy in Carson, and have usually done something totally boneheaded and/or played scared against their rivals at Dignity Health Sports Park. They do have the edge in knockout games previously — winning the only one, in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs at The Banc — but the stakes are higher than a “regular” rivalry game. And we know this rivalry means there’s never a run-of-the-mill game.
But again, all the sacrifices this month, and much of the previous pain in this rivalry will wash away if they can get the win on Wednesday. If they do, what’s come the last few weeks will all be worth it. If they don’t, it’s going to be a double blow as they look to pick up the pieces. Those are the stakes for this game.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.