LAFC enjoyed its best half of football all season on Aug. 13 against Charlotte F.C. The Eastern Conference expansion team had kept LAFC's offense at bay through the first half, but once defender Jesus Murillo scored the first goal four minutes into the second, the floodgates opened wide for the Black & Gold attack. When the final whistle blew, the score was 5-0 to LAFC, courtesy of five different goal scorers. The stalwarts of LAFC's attack this season- Jose Cifuentes, Carlos Vela and Christian Arango- all found the back of the net. Chicho's goal, the fourth of the evening, was particularly beautiful; the result of excellent vision and passing from the entire attack. LAFC enjoyed its most emphatic win of the 2022 campaign with striker Gareth Bale and defender Giorgio Chiellini in street clothes; both players were held out for precautionary reasons with an eye toward the busy week to come. It didn't matter. The quality of LAFC's depth was on full display against Charlotte, and the Club is now primed to reap the benefits of its foresight in resting its two new stars.
BUSY WEEK – SHORT REST
LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo's decision to rest Bale and Chiellini on Aug. 13 paid off in a 5-0 victory, and now both players are options to see time against D.C. United on Aug. 16. Playing on two days' rest is a challenge for any club, but LAFC get to do so in consecutive home games, where D.C. United must travel across the country on short rest after falling 1-0 to the New England Revolution on Aug. 13. After the match, LAFC will embark on a three-city road trip through San Jose, Austin and Houston, but every game will be played on full rest.
"It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s the same for both teams, and we don’t have a long travel like D.C., so I see no disadvantage there for LAFC,” Cherundolo said. “Our players have all come out of the game [against Charlotte] very well, and they’re excited about the next chance to prove themselves. We have prepared as we would. We’ve shaved some duration down to keep guys fresh for the game and we’ll make the adjustments if need be physically, but at the moment, we are good. We’re in a good spot and excited for [Tuesday].
BALE & CHIELLINI'S LAFC ASSIMILATION CONTINUES
When Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini has anchored the backline for LAFC, his class, communication and football I.Q. have been on full display. The fact that he has started matches is encouraging for LAFC fans looking for him to be a more consistent presence in the defense. Gareth Bale has yet to make his first start, but the goals that he's scored, particularly the full field sprint against Real Salt Lake, serve as flashes of what LAFC can expect from the Welshman once he is 100 percent match fit. However, the process of reaching 90-minute fitness cannot be rushed and is not linear. Cherundolo sat players out of the match against Charlotte to preserve them from the busy week to come, but also due to the fact that both players are attempting to step into a stretch run while their bodies are still in pre-season form.
"Bale hasn’t been 100 percent. We’re kind of just moving him along. I think it’s pretty normal - to have aches and pains in the middle of a preseason for a player,” Cherundolo said. “We [are still there with] him, as well as Giorgio, trying to get your body in the kind of position where you’re able to play 90 minutes week in and week out in the middle of a season is difficult. Sometimes, there are mini setbacks, and that’s where we are with both of them. It is purely precautionary.”
PLAYER HIGHLIGHT: CHRISTIAN ARANGO
Christian Arango's 12 goals lead LAFC. Combined with his three assists, he is tied with Carlos Vela in total created goals with 15. His progression in 2022 has kept him on the field during a time of transition. Arango is a great offensive threat for LAFC, but his progression in the other facets of his game drew great praise from head coach Steve Cherundolo.
"Christian Arango is a star. He’s one of the bunch, and he’s been very effective,” Cherundolo said. “He has understood what we asked of him to change about his game in the beginning of the season and he’s made those adjustments and has continued to score. Now, he is not only effective for himself scoring goals but also for the team with his defensive work and setting up other players, setting up his teammates and movements in occupying certain spaces we ask him to occupy. It’s been a pleasure coaching him so far this year, and I still think there is room for improvement."
HOW HE DREW IT UP
LAFC’s fourth goal vs. Charlotte on Aug. 13 was a thing of beauty. With different players touching the ball around the field, leaving the Charlotte defense in tatters before Arango powered the ball into the back of the net. According to Cherundolo, it really was the strategy coming to life from the training ground to the stadium.
"The fourth goal was pretty close to how we draw things up on the tactical board with the magnets,” Cherundolo said. “It’s never that simple in real life, but we want to play fast. We want to play goal- oriented so everything should be moving towards the final product. I’m not interested in meaningless possession. We want to play in transition, we want to be able to defend deep, we want to be able to press high. [We want to] be well balanced in all phases. It is understanding what phase you’re in and how to move through to the other in a fluid manner. We want to play as fast as possible at all times while remaining in a controlled state."
STAYING SHARP AT THE TOP OF THE TABLE
With 54 points through 24 matches, LAFC is six points clear of Austin F.C. and the Philadelphia Union, both of whom sit at 48 points through 25 matches in the Supporter's Shield race. The Aug. 16 match against D.C. United represents an opportunity to widen that gap, and give LAFC more of an opportunity to make history. LAFC need 20 points to break the single season MLS record of 73, set by New England last season.
None of this means anything to Cherundolo, who continues to take the season one game at a time. Keeping the focus on the short term and what the team can do to improve is how he has insulated the players from the distraction of success. While D.C. United has struggled this season, they have the full attention and respect of Cherundolo, his coaches and his players.
"Everybody here has been in MLS longer than I have, and knows it’s based on parity and slow growth throughout the season,” Cherundolo said. “Anybody can beat anybody, and games change like that. Goals come out of nowhere at this stage of the season. We are very aware of that, and would like to get the business done early, but if it takes 90 minutes, it takes 90 minutes. These players know that you can’t take a team lightly in this league. I’d describe success as not necessarily a place in the table or a number of points, it is maximizing the group’s potential. When I look at our players, it’s frustrating to me if they are not trying to get better, to improve and get all of their qualities on the field at one time. That’s what we are striving for, to be as good a group as we can."