Saturday, May 18, 2024

After CCL disappointment, LAFC begins grueling stretch of MLS matches

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The bill has come due.

With most Major League Soccer teams banking 16 or 17 games at this point of the season, the Los Angeles Football Club has played only 12.

Needing to catch up after postponing three matches during its run to the CONCACAF Champions League final (plus a season opener that was pushed back due to inclement weather), LAFC has no time to dwell on getting shut out in its biggest match of the year on Sunday.

After losing to Mexico’s Club León, LAFC returns to league play in third place in the Western Conference, two points behind Seattle (17 games) and three back of St. Louis (14 games).

As summer approaches, LAFC is one of three MLS teams averaging two or more points per game, joining St. Louis and current Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Cincinnati, which has 39 points through 16 matches.

On Wednesday, a rescheduled contest at BMO Stadium against Atlanta United FC opens what looks to be a grueling stretch leading up to the Leagues Cup. LAFC has six league matches during the next 18 days and another five between the first and 15th of July.

“Everybody knows and understands (the schedule) moves on without you whether you’re ready or not,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said Tuesday. “That’s been the messaging the past few days, and from what I’ve seen in training today the guys are in a good space and ready to perform.”

Content with an approach that prioritized Champions League play by delaying league matches when possible and sacrificing the U.S. Open Cup despite a home game against the Galaxy, their packed calendar is “just the reality,” Cherundolo added. “We would love to take more time to properly digest and dissect what happened but we don’t have it and we will move on.”

Originally set to host Atlanta on June 3, LAFC expects to rotate portions of its lineup.

Defenders Aaron Long (head) and Sergi Palencia (leg) suffered injuries in the CONCACAF final and have been officially ruled out. Midfielders Kellyn Acosta and Timothy Tillman are questionable with lower extremity concerns.

“We’re a few guys short,” Cherundolo said. “But what that means is opportunities for other guys to show not only what they can do but make arguments for themselves to be consistently in the starting lineup. It’s pretty natural in competitive sports so I’m looking for an answer from those guys.”

Italian center back Giorgio Chiellini, who missed more than a month while nursing a calf strain, emerged after logging 45 minutes against León healthy and eager to contribute.

“Now it will not be so easy but we have to focus on MLS, especially in the next weeks,” Chiellini said. “We have a lot of games. We spent a lot of energy in the Champions League.”

Turning its attention to Atlanta, LAFC (7-1-4) must not lose track of Greek forward Giorgos Giakoumakis, who leads the 2018 MLS Cup winners with nine goals.

The same goes for early MVP candidate Thiago Almada. With seven goals and eight assists, the Argentine midfielder leads MLS in chances created from open play and key passes and has helped the United (6-4-6, 24 points) lead MLS in scoring off of set pieces.

Despite its potent attack, Atlanta has not fared well on the road, going 1-3-4 away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

ATLANTA UNITED FC AT LAFC

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: BMO Stadium

TV/Radio: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass/710 AM, 980 AM

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