OFF TO PALM SPRINGS
LAFC moves preseason training Palm Springs this week, as they will participate for the second straight season to the Coachella Valley Invitational. Tournament play for the Black & Gold begins Monday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. with a match against DC United and concludes the Invitational action against Toronto FC on Saturday Feb. 11 at 11 a.m.
Cherundolo is optimistic about where things stand before lining up for two matches against MLS competition.
“The players, the staff and everybody at the organization is hungry for more, Cherundolo said. “Which is a great sign. I think we have a strong foundation we’re growing off, which puts us in a very comfortable position this preseason.”
Both matches will take place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA this week. LAFC has had two closed preseason matches this season already – against Real Salt Lake and NYCFC.
“In preseason so far with our matches, we’ve seen much of what we saw last year and what we want to see continue in the future,” Cherundolo said. “But, they have only been for short stints of time. The objective with preseason is to give and expose players to more minutes, with each game progressing toward a 90-minute game - to where we can see our style of play for 90 minutes. Not just for 15, 30 or 45 minutes. We can also focus more on details, onboarding new players with our principles and game model.”
Considering the Black & Gold have only four chances to line up against MLS Clubs this preseason, excluding a friendly home match against the San Diego Loyal (USL) to close out preseason - minutes come at a premium.
While the result of a preseason match doesn’t matter, players understand the stakes of getting into shape for a season that could include nearly 60 matches.
“I think we put in the work – we ran,” LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez said after a recent preseason match vs. NYCFC. “The best moments will come with this kind of play. Happy with the effort. Happy with the performance. We are in the right direction to be able to perform and be ready to go.”
With Aaron Long away for January camp with the U.S. National Team, it was also an opportunity to ingratiate defender Denil Maldonado to new territory and the demands of a Club stepping up following a MLS championship season. And with six trophies at stake in 2023 - there isn’t time to figure things out.
“I feel good with everything going on right now,” Maldonado said. “The team has a pretty high confidence going into the season. We’re practicing hard together to make sure we enter the season with the right foot forward.”
PRE-SEASON = MOVING PIECES
With less than three weeks until kicking off the 2023 season with a titanic match-up vs. the Galaxy at the Rose Bowl, LAFC remains in full gear preparing to pick up where they left off from their historic 2022 campaign throughout preseason training.
And in terms of pickups, Co-President/General Manager John Thorrington made several key roster moves that stress the importance of getting everyone on the same page in the 2023 preseason.
Cup winning rosters in MLS can be a double-edged sword when it comes to keeping players together under the League salary cap roster rules. So with new players such as Denil Maldonado, Stipe Biuk, Elden Jakupovic, Aaron Long and Sergi Palencia joining the club – the process of building chemistry like the team had last year has begun.
And it all starts in the preseason, with the head coach helping to integrate the newcomers into the group.
Before the MLS Cup Final, Giorgio Chiellini shared with the LA Times about Cherundolo’s candor and ability to “give (players) the confidence and the calmness we need in this moment.” And despite how big that moment was, this is where Cherundolo lives all season long and is exactly where LAFC is as they head toward the 2023 season.
With trophies won in 2022, LAFC has become a place to be for players choosing an LAFC destination. Early headlines splashed when former MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long chose to join the Black & Gold. Hailing from the Premier League, goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic didn’t mince words when stating “If you asked me to choose one city to come and play - it would be L.A.”