LAFC is Back! - 2024 Season Preview


The shortest and busiest offseason in LAFC’s six-year history is hours from ending. And while the roster is different than the one that flew home from Columbus, Ohio, following the MLS Cup final 11 weeks ago, the expectations are the same: to raise the gleaming, silver Philip F. Anschutz trophy when the journey ends in December.

The prevailing narrative outside the Club is that LAFC’s on-field identity has changed over the last couple of years – from a free-flowing, goal-scoring sports car to a more conservative, defense-minded game model. Head coach Steve Cherundolo doesn’t think either description fits.

“The identity of LAFC has always been a winning culture,” he said after training on Thursday, 48 hours before his team kicks off against Seattle Sounders at BMO Stadium (Sat. Feb. 24, 1:30 p.m. PT). “I would define LAFC that way. There are many ways to win games and to get to the end line. How we get there – I’m not sure that’s as important as getting there.”

Having already analyzed LAFC’s 2024 schedule, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the first-team roster.

With a single stroke of Hugo Lloris’ pen in late December, LAFC gained a goalie who instantly ranks among MLS’ top three at the position — right up there with reigning Goalkeeper of the Year Roman Burki of St. Louis, and Andre Blake of Philadelphia.

But who backs Lloris up? “Right now it’s Abraham Romero,” Cherundolo said. “He prepared all last season to step into a number-two role and he’s done fantastic. We’re confident in Abraham.” The former Mexican youth international just turned 26, is coming off a strong season with LAFC2, and made two sprawling saves against the Chicago Fire in a February friendly in Coachella.

Following the retirement of center back and international legend Giorgio Chiellini (who remains with LAFC as a development coach) and the departure of left back Diego Palacios to Brazil, LAFC’s back line is pretty set: right back Ryan Hollingshead, central defenders Aaron Long and Jesús Murillo, and new left back Omar Campos. A 21-year-old Mexican National Team member and Liga MX veteran, Campos may have won the unofficial MVP award of the 2024 preseason.

Sergi Palencia provides depth and flexibility at either fullback spot. Eddie Segura, a fixture in central defense from 2019 until he suffered a knee injury in 2022, returns to the rotation “stronger than ever,” he said. LAFC is likely to acquire another defender in the days ahead.

Two weeks ago, it looked as if defensive midfielder Ilie Sánchez and attacking mids Timmy Tillman and Mateusz Bogusz would have to play every minute in the middle of the park for LAFC in 2024. Then came the return of Eduard Atuesta, an original member of the 2018 Black & Gold who ranked among the best midfielders in MLS when he left the club for Brazil in 2021. Still only 26, Atuesta earned MLS Best XI status in 2019, the year he assisted on seven of the 25 non-penalty-kick goals Vela scored in that magical season. (Vela scored 34 total, still the MLS record.)

“They all have different attributes,” Cherundolo said of his four-headed midfield monster. Which three will man the middle of LAFC’s 4-3-3 setup “will be decided according to the opponent and what the game needs at a given moment,” he added. Nineteen-year-old academy product Erik Dueñas will contribute, as well.

Carlos Vela – Club captain, face of the team, and the first player LAFC signed after it was founded – is still negotiating with the Club on a 2024 contract that will satisfy both parties. “We respect Carlos so much,” co-president and GM John Thorrington said last week. “Being the first signing, the first star in the history of this Club – we are still trying to come to terms, and Carlos is OK that we are continuing these talks.”

Vela played the center forward role for most of last season. His absence leaves more room for homegrown Nathan Ordaz, and recent signing Tomás Ángel – just 20 and 21 years old, respectively – to step into the middle of LAFC’s three-attacker structure. Playing on the outside of the alignment are Cristian Olivera (the right wing who signed last summer and instantly added speed and verticality to LAFC’s attack) and Dénis Bouanga – the 2023 MLS MVP finalist who scored 38 goals across all competitions in 2023, tying Vela’s league record.

The Club’s most recent addition, 18-year-old Venezuelan attacker David Martínez, will compete for playing time with each of these forwards except Bouanga, whose passion for playing and record-setting production make him hard to remove from the pitch. Martinez arrived at the LAFC Performance Center for the first time on Thursday, fresh off a successful run with Venezuela’s U23 team in South America. LAFC loves to throw young talent right into the mix, and as Thorrington told our own Max Bretos on the Inside LAFC podcast this week, “If [Martínez] shows he’s fit in training, he’ll play.”

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