Training Report

Notes from Training | Matchday 23

LAFC kicks off one of the busiest months in club history by taking on its fiercest rival in a historic stadium on a national holiday – with first place on the line

LAFC training Hugo Lloris 070224

A cloudless blue sky stretched over the practice pitch at the LAFC Performance Center on Tuesday, as defending Western Conference champions and current table leaders LAFC ramped up its focus and tapered down its full-speed sprinting in preparation for what might be the most pivotal regular-season installment of MLS’ most passionate rivalry. On Thursday night, first-place LAFC (12W-4L-4D, 2.0 points per game) will take on the Galaxy (11W-3L-7D, 1.9 ppg) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Both teams enter the matchup at the 103-year-old stadium (where they set the MLS single-game attendance record exactly a year ago) flying high. Through June, LAFC and the Galaxy were the only two teams in the West with at least 11 wins. Each club had scored a conference-best 41 goals. Neither team has lost a home match in southern California this year.

Something has to give.

“It's great,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said of the added relevance of the clubs’ 23rd all-time meeting. “I think that's how everybody drew it up. It's more exciting towards the end of the season, and in the playoffs, it would be even better. But for right now it's great, both teams are on pace with each other and showing great signs.”

“It’s good that both Los Angeles clubs are at the top in the West,” said LAFC captain Ilie Sánchez. “Logically we want to win and be in first, and also win the titles at the end of the year. For me, I don't know if it's motivating [for the teams to enter the game in 1-2 in the table], but it is exciting that the two Los Angeles teams are getting good results.”

It’s a match that international football eyes follow – LAFC attacker Mateusz Bogusz recalled watching LAFC and the Galaxy do battle when he was a teen in Europe. For LAFC, Thursday’s match is the first among a jam-packed calendar of games in July.

“We can't lose sight that this is an MLS match and there are three points on the line, as well as in Houston,” Cherundolo said, referring to the Black & Gold’s road match in Texas, which kicks off about 72 hours after the Galaxy game ends. “We can't lose sight of where we are in the season. Yes, it's a derby, but there are points on the line now, almost every three days. So we have to make sure that we are consistent in the way we gather points.”

“We cannot stop at this moment of the season,” said goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. “We need to push. I believe that July is really important for the team because we are going to face big opponents, and it's going to start on Thursday against the Galaxy.”


Cherundolo, a 19-year veteran of the Bundesliga, and of dozens of grudge matches between his former club, Hannover 96, and their top rivals, Eintracht Braunschweig, was asked on Thursday whether LAFC-Galaxy is MLS’ best derby. “For me it is, yeah, hands down,” he said. “LA is a sports town and you have one club who has won the most championships I believe—traditionally the best club over the 28-year span—and you have LAFC over the last seven years coming on very strong. So that makes it really interesting. I think the history of the fans too, both fan groups of both being from LA— one from LA, the other from a little outside, but LA is pretty big, so I think we can say that— that makes it very interesting. For me, yes, it’s the biggest rivalry.”

“It’s like a final,” LAFC forward Denis Bouanga said in French, citing the added ambience of a stadium that holds more than 100,000 spectators. “There’s nothing else around it, there is just the two teams on the field. We want to win on Thursday. They won last time [at the Rose Bowl in 2023]. So we are hoping that we can win the second battle and continue what we have done in the first part of the season.”

Added Sánchez: “What we want is to give our fans that satisfaction and joy of being able to say that we are the best team in the city.”


LAFC’s neighbors are not the same side that eked out a 2-1 result in the Rose Bowl last year on their way to a 13th-place finish in the West. Several key additions, including LAFC’s starting goalie in that match, John McCarthy, have placed the Galaxy among MLS’ elite in 2024. “Really good team,” said Lloris, “quite complete. They can dominate the game by their possession style, but also they are really fast in transition. They have quality in every area on the field.

“The fact that we are going to play in the Rose Bowl,” Lloris added, “it makes the game like a final, you know? A lot of fans for the national day [Fourth of July]. It's really interesting to play this type of game because it gives you an indication where you are as a team. The Galaxy are really competitive. I'm not surprised to see them in that position at the table.”

“A little bit more solid defensively than the past year,” Sánchez said of the Galaxy, who have lost just three games in 2024 (one defeat came to LAFC, 2-1, at BMO Stadium in April). “When they play against us, they always raise the level. No matter what Galaxy we saw these past two seasons since I joined LAFC, they always come at us with everything they have.”

“I think they're better than last season,” said Bouanga. “They have a lot of verticality. They have two players on the side who are extremely fast [recently-acquired wingers Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil], so they are really similar to us. I think it's gonna be a great game. There’s a reason we have the same number of points.”


On Monday, Major League Soccer announced that Bouanga and Lloris had been named MLS All Stars for 2024 and will compete against Mexico’s Liga MX All Stars in Columbus, Ohio, on July 24. “Personal accolades and recognition is always great for the group,” Cherundolo said. “It's a compliment to the group. Denis winning the Golden Boot last year is also about the hard work of the team putting him in those positions.”

“It’s always really great to have an individual award,” said Bouanga, who has earned two All-Star selections in his two full seasons in MLS. “It proves that we are at a high performance level. And I'm really happy that Hugo is with me in the All Star team because he deserves it based on the first part of the season. It's because of our team that I'm there, and I really hope that I can do the same on the second part so we can win MLS Cup and the MLS championship.”

For Lloris, a veteran of the English Premier League (which does not have an All Star game or its equivalent), the honor is the first of its kind in his decorated career.

“It's going to be a new experience for me obviously,” the French goalkeeper said. “I'm really glad to be part of this selection. It is going to be something new in my career, and I'm looking forward to meeting all of the important players of the league. And obviously we will have the responsibility to give the right image in that game, against the best players of the Mexican league.”

In yet another week of firsts for Lloris, the All Star recognition arrives alongside his first Fourth of July in the U.S., which he compared to Bastille Day in his native France. “I have heard about it,” he said with a smile, “but I think I will be focused into my game [against the Galaxy]. I will respect my routine the day of the game and just enjoy the competition, enjoy the moment. It’s always a great feeling to play in a great atmosphere packed full of fans. There will be only one goal, that’s to win.”


Lloris has also been watching the UEFA European Championships for the first time as a fan—instead of from his position between the posts for France’s national team, which he served as captain for nearly a decade. “I think most of the [Euro 2024] games that I have watched, I watched in the building [at the Performance Center], at breakfast time or at lunch time. Obviously, I follow the French national team like a supporter now, but it's never easy with the time difference. I still enjoy watching high level games and I hope to see the French national team progressing to the next round.”

Lloris and his teammates watched on Monday as LAFC forward Cristian Olivera competed for Uruguay in the other international tournament that’s currently underway, Copa América. Olivera, who has scored seven goals for LAFC this year in all competitions, came on in the 27th minute following an injury to Uruguay’s Max Araújo, and contributed a lively 63-minute shift to the Uruguayans’ 1-0 win over the United States.

LAFC faces the Galaxy on Thursday, July 4, at The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena at 7:30 p.m. PT (MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, 710 AM ESPN LA, ESPN LA app, 980 AM La Mera Mera).

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