After a difficult 2-1 victory on April 24 in Cincinnati, LAFC prepares for an intense first few weeks of May that features four matches in the 14 days of the month. First up is Sunday’s clash against Minnesota United, one of only five teams in MLS that have a winning record (2-1-3) against the Black & Gold since 2018 – and a team that has enjoyed recent success at Banc of California Stadium, coming back to tie LAFC 2-2 on a late goal in 2021 and beating LAFC 2-0 in 2019.
“This is a big game,” LAFC forward Mahala Opoku said. “This is what we train for. We know they are going to come in hard, and they are going to be up for playing us in L.A.”
The Loons are 4-2-2 (14 points) and in the midst of a two-game winning streak, having defeated Chicago 3-0 and Colorado 3-1 in their last two games.
“They are a team that is difficult to beat,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “They are good on the break and they are physical. They also have some unpredictability and creativity in their players. We are well aware of what is coming our way and feel good about our preparation so far. I think that we will put the work in this week and look to be in a good spot to win another game.”
GETTING STARTED EARLY
LAFC has not allowed a goal in the second half yet in 2022, and has used that second half surge to their advantage to blast off to a league-leading 6-1-1 record (19 points) so far this season. LAFC has fallen behind in the first half in five of their seven matches this season, trend they are focusing on changing beginning on Sunday.
“[Steve] told us he wants us to start every game the way we finish every game,” Opoku said. “We need to play our football from the start. From the beginning we have to go out there and just play smart and play the way we can from the beginning to the end.”
LAFC has been able to storm back from deficits in their last two matches, but it is something they definitely don’t want to make a habit of.
“We have been working on intensity this week,” LAFC midfielder Jose Cifuentes said. “We have seen in many games that in the first 30 minutes, we start off slow. It has been hard on us. That is something that we have identified where we have been vulnerable, so we are working on that for this match.”
In addition to coming out strong, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo is looking for his team to play a faster style of football against Minnesota as well.
“This week we talked about pushing the tempo a little bit,” Cherundolo said. “Against Cincinnati, our tempo was slow. I would say that for us, it was poor. So, we are really looking to push the tempo on Sunday and play our game.”
CONFRONTING THE MASSES
Following a hard and dangerous challenge on LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead by Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta in the final minutes of the April 24 win, the Black & Gold rallied around their fallen teammate, with a lot of pushing and shoving between both teams, and several LAFC players exhorting the official to show a red card to Acosta.
The day after the game, LAFC was found in violation of the league’s Mass Confrontation Policy. It is the third time so far this season that LAFC has been in violation of the policy, and the Club has been fined.
“I’m not concerned,” Cherundolo said when asked about the violations. “We are a tight knit group. I have a team that likes to win and the guys are competitive. I see no harm in that. Emotions are important in this game, and I think taking the emotions out of it is counter intuitive to what we are trying to do by growing the game in this country. We have a team that stands up for each other, and as long as it does not go any further or really crosses a line, that is part of the game.”
Cherundolo also felt that taken on a case by case basis, the players reactions are understandable.
“I think you really need to look at every situation and treat every situation differently,” Cherundolo said. “I’m not sure there is a team out there on the planet that would not have reacted to what happened at the end of the Galaxy game. Then, [on Sunday] in Cincinnati, Ryan [Hollingshead] takes a bad shot to the head, and you saw the players coming together and standing up for their teammate. Now – if things boil over and are out of control, then of course fines and suspensions need to be handed out – but none of these situations have gone that far.”
CHIQUI ON THE RISE
LAFC defender Diego “Chiqui” Palacios has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2022 season. The 22-year-old has elevated his game so far, registering two official assists while starting six games and playing 517 minutes.
“I think he has been our most consistent player this year,” Cherundolo said. “Chiqui has been fantastic. He has offensively become more prolific. He has always been a good defender, but now he is figuring out how to step up and an offensive contributor.”
Palacios has continued to spend time with the Ecuador National Team, who qualified for the upcoming World Cup, and the young player is getting first rate guidance from Cherundolo, who played the same left back position in his illustrious career that saw him appear on three World Cup rosters for the United States.
“I couldn’t be happier with his development and progression,” Cherundolo said. “The sky is the limit with him. He has so much more, his ceiling is just so high. I look forward to him getting even better. He has the capacity to be hands down the best left back in this league.”
LAFC’s injury list got a little longer on April 24 in Cincinnati, as defender Doniel Henry was forced to leave the game early in the first half with a strained left hamstring. Henry is questionable for Sunday’s match-up with Minnesota, and he joins Eddie Segura (Right Knee), Brian Rodriguez (Right hamstring) and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Left quadriceps) on the injured list.
“Brian is getting close to getting back,” Cherundolo said. “We feel really good about his progression and I think he is ahead of schedule.”
Segura is also continuing his comeback from a serious knee injury suffered last season that caused him to miss the second half of 2021 and all of the games so far in 2022.
“He just needs to add some fitness,” Cherundolo said. “He is doing very well and maybe he will start to get some minutes in games coming up.”
Tajouri-Shradi has not played since scoring the MLS Goal of the Week April 17 vs. Sporting Kansas City, and continues to recover from a quad injury.