The Final Push

In a season of constant challenges, the reigning MLS Cup Champions are aiming to improve their positioning in the standings - with eight matches and a few thousand air miles left to go.

“Eight games left,” LAFC midfielder Ilie Sánchez said late Sunday night, already moving past the painful home defeat to Miami. “First goal is to get into those playoffs. Second goal is to finish as high as we can. We also have a final at the end of this month that we really want to win in front of these amazing people. And the third goal [is] to try to have a long, long run in the playoffs.”

Those MLS Cup playoffs are still seven weeks away, but LAFC’s defense of its 2022 MLS Cup trophy enters a pivotal stretch on Saturday, when it faces the Portland Timbers—one of five road matches the Club will play over its final eight fixtures.

The Club’s approach from here was aptly summarized by defender Giorgio Chiellini Sunday night. “The most important thing it to try to arrive [in the playoffs] with the best seed possible in order to play at home,” Chiellini said. “It’s a big advantage for everyone, but I think especially for us ... And I think it was the secret to our win last year.”

Here, then, is a preview of LAFC’s seven-week effort to set itself up for similar success.

Saturday September 9
at Portland (7:30 PT)

Timbers overall: 7W-11L-9T (30 pts.), 12th in West
Timbers at home: 6W-4L-3T

LAFC is currently enjoying a week with no mid-week match following the tough result against Miami. There will be no mid-week game after the Portland trip, either. Good timing, because with seven games over the next 22 days, things are about to get busy. Departing Portland with all three points would fill LAFC’s sails as it moves toward these choppy seas.

Saturday September 16
Home vs. Galaxy

Galaxy overall: 7W-10L-8T (29 pts.), 13th in West
Galaxy on the road: 2W-6L-5T

LAFC would do well to cast aside the emotions of this rivalry and consider this a business meeting held in its home office. Three points are the objective. Negotiations must be cold and clinical against a team that is gaining confidence, having lost just one of its last 11 regular-season matches (W5, D5, L1).

Wednesday September 20
at St. Louis City FC

St. Louis City FC overall: 15W-10L-2T (47 pts.), 1st in West
St. Louis City FC at home: 10W-3L-1T

St. Louis has the best home record in the Western Conference, but they have scored just four goals over their last three matches. LAFC fans will want to keep an eye on St. Louis’ Sept. 16 match in sweltering Houston to see what kind of form they could be in headed into the 20th.

Saturday September 23 
at Philadelphia

Union overall: 14W-8L-4T (46 pts.), 4th in East
Union at home: 9W-1L-2T

Oddly, the Union are enjoying a two-week break – followed by Supporters Shield leaders Cincinnati at home, then a trip to the Charlotte humidity. Philly will kick off against the Black & Gold less than 72 hours after the Charlotte game’s final whistle. But LAFC won’t be fully rested either, having just arrived from St. Louis. Another dramatic meeting of annual MLS Cup contenders, this will be the third meeting this season between these two, and it will have a playoff feel. As usual.

Wednesday September 27
Home vs. Tigres (Campeones Cup)

This annual, non-league title match featuring the reigning MLS Cup Champions and the Liga MX title winners comes amid a crowded schedule for both teams, but there’s a trophy involved, and every club loves lifting hardware. The deep roster that LAFC has built will be tested on this night by one of Liga MX’s strongest sides.

Sunday October 1 
Home vs. Real Salt Lake

RSL overall: 11W-9L-7T (40 pts.), 4th in West
RSL on the road: 6W-4L-3T

This has all the makings of a difficult matchup. It comes four days after an emotional final, against the team with the best road record in the West. RSL will be hungry, too, having lost to LAFC twice so far this season by a combined 7-0 score. Currently tied with one another in points (40), LAFC and RSL will redraw the Western Conference playoff bracket when they meet October 1.

Wednesday Oct 4 
Home vs. Minnesota United FC 

MNUFC overall: 9W-8L-9T (36 pts.), 7th in West
MNUFC on the road: 6W-6L-2T

The Loons are road warriors, too. (And they are unbeaten in their four matches since Leagues Cup.) Pocketing three points at home against Minnesota would put LAFC on the front foot before it hits the road for the final two matches of the regular season.

Saturday October 7
at Austin FC 

Austin overall: 9W-12L-6T (33 pts.), 10th in West
Austin at home: 3W-8L-3T

No matter where LAFC stands when this game arrives, earning three road points against a team that has struggled at home would smooth the path toward LAFC’s goal of repeating as league champs. Also important: LAFC (and most other MLS teams) will have two weeks off after this game due to Concacaf Nations League.

Saturday October 21
at Vancouver

Vancouver overall: 10W-8L-8T (38 pts.), 6th in West
Vancouver at home: 3W-5L-4T

Who knows what the table will look like when Decision Day dawns? Given their current place in the standings, this matchup between LAFC and Vancouver will almost certainly shuffle the playoff deck before the curtain closes on the regular season. And look out for Ryan Gauld, who not only loves to give LAFC fits, but is making a sneaky run toward MVP consideration.

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