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The MLS season is a marathon, and LAFC currently have debilitating cramps

Better find that final kick before it’s too late.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In Steve Cherundolo’s first season as LAFC head coach, one of his truisms throughout the campaign has been that “The season is a marathon, not a sprint.” And wow, has the last month really driven that point home.

Through mid-August, LAFC were flying, seemingly runaway Supporters’ Shield leaders, somehow continually reloading their roster with more and more famous people, even when it seemed like they were chock-full of big-time players already. The message was obvious: LAFC are here to win, and win every game from here on out.

Well, it hasn’t happened quite like that. After a club-record seven-game winning streak heading into mid-August, LAFC have lost four of their last five games, their worst run in over a year. All of those losses have come on the road, which in a home-heavy league like MLS is not altogether surprising, but considering LAFC were previously 7W-3L-1D in road play before this losing skid, and oops, they still have two more road games this regular season, regressing this hard to the mean is biting them badly.

And it is true there are some game state scenarios at play in the road losses, most recently Saturday’s 2-1 capitulation at FC Dallas. LAFC finally took a lead and then lost it completely, but they were playing 75 minutes of the game down a man, which on the road, is a recipe for a loss more often than not, whether you want to believe it or not.

In a related vein, the previous loss, 2-1 at the Houston Dynamo, was a truly unlucky night. It happens, honestly, even to great teams. And...er, yes, you could probably say something similar about the loss that kickstarted this off, 2-1 at the San Jose Earthquakes.

Only the 4-1 thrashing they suffered to Austin FC was truly a horrible performance for the black-and-gold, but the difference between this and the LAFC of the first two-thirds of the season is they’re having off nights at all. Sometimes you struggle and come through with a win anyway, sometimes you play better and lose, that’s all in the nature of the sport. But LAFC have lost their swagger and they no longer look like they can find a solution in pretty much every game they play.

The result? LAFC have nearly given up the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadephia Union, and need to earn at least three more points than Philly in the remaining games in order to win it. The only reason it’s not gone completely, since LAFC are behind by three points now — for the first time all season — is because they have a game in hand, Tuesday at Minnesota United. A road game, on short rest? Oh, great. But if LAFC need pressure to perform, well, it’s well and truly here now.

There’s four games left in the regular season for LAFC to buckle down and get their act together before the playoffs. There’s also the playoffs, but in a single-elimination format, they can’t sputter through the regular season, lose a trophy in the final month, and just expect they can turn it on to win MLS Cup. It doesn’t work like that, not realistically.

So if we go back to the running metaphor from Cherundolo, LAFC are at 25.5 miles of their marathon, and while they certainly should make it over the finish line upright, they need to grit through horrible cramps to do it. And oh yeah, they just got passed but the runner ahead of them can be caught before the finish, if only the black-and-gold tune the pain out and find that final kick before it’s too late. If not, we don’t want to see them wondering why on earth they stopped running the race with a quarter mile left to go.

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