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LAFC rested and focused on building off strong start

After two weeks of International break, it’s time to back the team and push on towards playoffs.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Previously, on Los Angeles Football Club: The last time LAFC were in action, there was a lot going on. In addition to playing a close back-and-forth match with San Jose Earthquakes — a match they ultimately won 3-2 — there was also a lot of discourse over what happened in the stands during the match. Now, two weeks later, the team for the most part is well-rested, presumably healthier, have a brand new player joining and are ready for the very early stages of what will eventually become the playoff push (hopefully).

We can start at the last. In case you missed the news, LAFC have a new player joining the club and while the word is thrown around a lot, make no mistake, Giorgio Chiellini is a true legend of the game. The accomplishments, trophies won and incredible on-pitch moments seem endless, far too long to get into here, but know he brings a standard to MLS. Now, being honest, he is a 37-year-old defender, so while modern sports has come far allowing players to play longer, he is still on the tail-end of his career. However, he was brought in perhaps more for what he brings to a team’s mentality. In continuing with the ‘get more experience’ vibes this team has enjoyed this year, they go and get a player who has more experience in the sport than most of the MLS combined.

He knows what it takes to win at the highest levels, knows the mentality needed — especially when going up against rivals — to come away with results consistently, and for the younger talent on the team he knows what it takes to play abroad. Not just be there either, but how to make an impact. To put it in general sports terms, Chiellini is the ‘locker room vet’ guy, who still makes a ton of sense for this team.

Now for the rest of where we stand with the Black-and-Gold. After weeks of hyping up this alleged deal that was all but signed, we’ve still yet to see Carlos Vela ink pen to paper on any new contract nor has there been any announcement from the team, which we all agree is something they’d shout about from the mountaintops. So where that stands as his current deal runs out in just a few weeks, is anyone's guess. What we do know is this team sort-of, kinda, limped into International break. Of their last five matches before the break, team had two wins and two draws in MLS action and a huge 3-1 loss on the road to rivals LA Galaxy, in the U.S. Open Cup.

That loss was such a disappointment, it led to one of the strangest moments in LAFC’s short history, a fan protest. For the first ever — and I do mean ever, as I personally witnessed dozens of fans stand across the street from the stadium during a real-life pandemic, just to cheer this team on — The 3252 and most of the fans throughout the stadium, remained silent for the first 12 minutes of the match. Even after an early LAFC goal, the supporters didn’t budge, creating one of the more bizarre atmospheres you could imagine.

While no official statement from any Supporter Groups was released, it was gathered through vague-ish tweets and online posts that the protest was a direct response to the team's loss, and performance, in the Galaxy loss prior. Understandable considering the loss not only eliminated the team from a chance at getting a much-needed trophy, but it continued a winless run against their rivals on the road.

And despite all of that...The tough five-match stretch, the USOC elimination, and fan protests, this team is right where they want to be. They come back, in first place of the Western Conference, as well as leading in points for what would be a second Supporters’ Shield. The expectations of this team are well known — everyone here knows I wrote about it all offseason — it’s wise to remember this is a team being led by a first-year head coach in the MLS. Yes, this team oozes talent, but this team has oozed talent since it took the pitch in 2018, and is still searching for that first MLS Cup. So, while we can be quick to criticize, let’s also give praise when it’s due and Steve Cherundolo has had this team playing some great football. Even in the losses, both Galaxy matches aside, this team hasn't looked bad. Even scarier, they also haven't hit their ceiling yet. Guys like Chicho Arango and Brian Rodriguez seem to be settling into the attack now, with the defense getting healthier with Eddie Segura making his return from injury — though he didn't play — the last time out.

While the team is coming together, MLS doesn't rest for anyone, and the next five matches out the gate for the black-and-gold are going to be tough. They open up this weekend in Seattle against the always tough Sounders, top-five Eastern Conference side New York Red Bulls the following week, with second-placed FC Dallas, Vancouver and at home for the big rivalry match against LA Galaxy to round out those first five in the return to action. The second half of the season is officially postseason push and LAFC are in the driver’s seat while only looking to get better. Couldn't ask for more than that.

It’s time to fill in the alligator moat, raise the drawbridge, and turn The Banc back into the fortress it is.

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