Opportunities Ahead

LAFC seeks to return to winning ways with upcoming home match against Nashville

Atuesta LAFC SKC 031624

On the heels of three straight matches without a goal, LAFC returned to work at the Performance Center at Cal State LA on Tuesday.

On the horizon lies a Saturday matchup at BMO Stadium against Nashville SC, a club that stands at 1W-0L-3D in MLS play (currently eighth in the Eastern Conference) and that went 2W-1L-1D in its four Concacaf Champions Cup matches, including a 3-1 defeat to Inter Miami last week, which ousted them from that competition.

In short, Nashville is in a bind similar to the one LAFC felt in March of last season, when the Black & Gold was fighting its way through the most congested schedule in MLS history, before emerging to advance to its second straight MLS Cup final.

It's worth remembering, however briefly, the heights LAFC reached last year and in the preceding seasons – and the expectations that followed. Midfielder Eduard Atuesta explained the situation eloquently on last week’s Inside LAFC podcast. “For a team that always competes to win titles,” Atuesta said, “it’s more difficult every year because all the teams I'm sure are looking at the videos of the past season and the two years ago season and … they are preparing to beat you. You have to maintain the top of the mountain, and when you have to keep your position on top it’s difficult. Every year is more difficult. We are trying to keep that position for the third year.”

LAFC is pursuing those lofty aspirations with a first-team roster that’s among the youngest in MLS – a roster that’s still under construction and which featured just 17 players who dressed for last Saturday’s match in Minnesota. 

This Saturday’s contest against Nashville includes a clash of the last two MLS Golden Boot winners – Hany Mukhtar (2022) and Denis Bouanga (2023) – who are also in similar positions at the moment. 

Bouanga is among the league leaders in shots but has yet to score a goal in 2024. Mukhtar, whose 15 goals in 2023 were five shy of Bouanga’s league-best 20, has not scored in his two MLS appearances this season – although he’s been limited by a hamstring issue that arose in a CCL match three weeks ago. 

The last time these two teams played, in June 2023, Bouanga and Mukhtar scored the only two goals in a 1-1 draw in Tennessee. Both sides would love to see their respective stars find the net again.

For LAFC, the Nashville match (and the one after it, in Colorado) represent a chance to regain its rhythm and build momentum headed into an April 6 derby date with the Galaxy.

As for its scoring – “That’s where we are underperforming at the moment,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said after the loss in Minnesota – LAFC has come through this before. In all competitions in 2023, LAFC experienced two stretches of four games each in which the club failed to score a goal, including three straight matches in which neither team scored.

Again, it’s Atuesta – who was here when the goals flowed freely but trophies proved hard to come by – who offers perspective:

“Two finals of the league. Two finals of Concacaf Champions [Cup], in six years, that’s so difficult. It’s difficult for teams that have 20 years of growing. Imagine for a team that has just seven years of history? It’s so hard. It’s difficult to get to that objective, like, check, check, check.

“We are good. It’s a good team. We have to keep the history of the team on top, and keep writing pages and pages of history for the team. We have to do that.”

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