GEARING UP FOR SKC
Sporting Kansas City is experiencing a down year by the team's loft standards. Over the past five years, SKC has finished at the top of Major League Soccer's Western Conference twice; the club beat LAFC on decision day in 2018 to claim the top spot, and finished in the penthouse in 2020 as well. Last season, they finished in 3rd position, but have failed thus far to build on that success in 2022. Through 22 matches this season, SKC has been the conference's weakest side by record (5-5-12). They come into this weekend's match against LAFC (13-3-4) with the worst goal differential (-19) in all of MLS. Despite the different paths the two clubs are on in 2022, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo is not looking past the challenge that winning three points on the road presents, regardless of opponent.
"We're looking forward to this weekend's match against Sporting KC, a very difficult place to play. They're a team that is very strong at home; if you aren't careful, things can get out of hand there really quickly," said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. "It's a game we are preparing ourselves for. It will be difficult, it'll be tight, it'll be competitive; there are also solutions, so we've been focusing on those as well."
LAFC's home showdown with the Seattle Sounders on July 29 looms over next weekend, but the team would be wise to follow their head coach's approach to this match. On paper, LAFC is leaps and bounds ahead of SKC, but football matches are won by players, not statistics. The match presents an opportunity for the club to continue to ease its new players into the fold in preparation for Seattle, but the execution cannot falter in the face of a lesser opponent; that is the recipe for an upset.
SEBASTIAN MENDEZ ARRIVES IN LA AND PREPS FOR LAFC DEBUT
Gareth Bale is no longer the newest kid on the block. That title now belongs to Ecuadorian midfielder Sebastian Mendez, who LAFC acquired from Orlando City SC on Tuesday, July 19th. The positionally versatile midfielder would be a starter on half the teams in MLS, but on LAFC, he provides even more depth to one of the league's most talent-laden rosters. After Thursday's practice, Cherundolo profiled Mendez as a player and explained the role that he's come to fill within the team, and also spoke to the ease of his transition into the club.
"His versatility in the midfield, his ability to play all three positions, the two eights and the six, is an advantage. He's physically very gifted, covers a lot of ground and is quite aggressive,” Cherundolo said. “His ball-winning ability is something we are looking for in players. On top of that, he's technically proficient and has an eye for certain windows. He fits very well into an [attacking midfielder] position for us and in a pinch he can play in a [defensive] position for us. Like the other new additions, it doesn't take long to integrate new guys into this group, they do a great job of welcoming new players. He has some fellow countrymen on this team as well so his integration process has finished very quickly and was excellent. Any time a player joins our group and smiles all day I think we've done something right for the player as well. We are excited to have him and give him some action, maybe this weekend."
FRANCISCO GINELLA OUT ON LOAN
Cherundolo spoke highly of Mendez's acquisition, but was equally complementary of Francisco Ginella's game and his long-term intent for the recently loaned out midfielder. Ginella is expected to see much more playing time for Uruguayan first division side Club Nacional, which Cherundolo said was best for both Club and player. LAFC's head coach suggested that Ginella might one day line up alongside Mendez for LAFC, but in the short term, it's great to see him bound for a club where he will be able to continue his career by playing in important games.
"I think [Mendez and Ginella] are different players. Both can help LAFC in different ways. Pancho is at a point in his career where he would like to play more and we would also like him to play more,” Cherundolo said. “Moving is his best opportunity to play in the short term, but long term Pancho can help us. His strategic way of playing, his passing, his vision, are different attributes and qualities than Sebastian has. Both can help us. For now, it's smart for Pancho to find a place where he can play more games, and we expect him to do that. The relationship with Sebastian is ongoing and growing and we'll see how he fits in and how he can contribute."
CHIELLINI AND BALE WATCH
Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini both had excellent debuts against Nashville SC in LAFC's 2-1 road victory last weekend, and are in line to make their second appearance for LAFC in Kansas City. Cherundolo was mum at Thursday's press conference as to if the SKC match would be the first time both players appear in the starting XI for LAFC, but after a week of successful practice and sound recovery from their respective debuts, there is room for hope among LAFC fans.
"I suspect both [Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini] will again play [against Sporting Kansas City]. They've had a full week of training," said Cherundolo. "They've recovered very well from the game. They enjoyed their debut and got a W. Both are ready to go."