LAFC completed its first week of training camp on Friday, as the team kicked off preparations for the 2024 MLS season just 42 days after falling 2-1 in the MLS Cup Final to the Columbus Crew. After the longest season in MLS history that saw the Club play 53 games in all competitions and become the first MLS team to ever appear in the Concacaf Champions League Final and the MLS Cup Final in the same year, head coach Steve Cherundolo had his squad back on the training pitch to get ready for the Feb. 24 regular season opener.
“It’s another year and another chance for all of us,” LAFC defender Aaron Long said. “We see each other and look around – we know what is on our mind. To come so close last year and to fall short… I think that is all we are thinking about right now as we get ready for the new season.”
GETTING BACK AT IT
It was a different group that took the field this week, as just 12 players from last year’s squad that advanced to MLS Cup for the second straight season currently remain on the roster. As LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington continues to build out the 2024 edition of the Black & Gold, a number of players from LAFC2 are in training with the first team.
“It’s been really good this week,” Long said. “It’s been a lot of hard work – a lot of fitness. We’ve got a lot of young guys that we are bringing along and getting good minutes and getting integrated and learning the system. As the weeks start to stack up and guys come together, things will get rolling. We’ve got a great environment here and everyone is doing a lot of hard work.”
COMINGS AND GOINGS
While LAFC started the first week of training a bit shorthanded, the Club is expecting reinforcements to arrive soon.
MLS 2023 Golden Boot Winner Denis Bouanga missed the first week of camp and is expected to return to Los Angeles in the coming days after remaining in France to recover from an illness. Newly signed goalkeeper and France and Tottenham legend Hugo Lloris is also expected to arrive in the next few days and begin training with the Club.
Cristian Olivera, who was recently in camp with the Uruguay U-23 National Team, will also be back with LAFC next week as he is set to begin his first full training camp with the Club. Olivera, 22, joined the Black & Gold in August and had an immediate impact – but one Thorrington believes will be even greater in 2024 with more time in Cherundolo’s system.
“With [Olivera] coming in midseason last year, with the number of games we had it was really hard for him to integrate into the squad,” Thorrington said. “So much of what you see on a gameday is prepared on the training pitch in the preseason. The preseason is the unique opportunity where you get hours on the training pitch – so this year, with him being here and being able to adapt and really understand our system, I think [Olivera] is going to prove to be phenomenal for us this year with his skill set and what he brings to our group.”
Several players with key roles for the Club in recent years have departed, such as free agents Max Crepeau (Portland), John McCarthy (Galaxy), Diego Palacios (Corinthians – Brazil), and Kellyn Acosta, while Stipe Biuk (Real Valladolid – Spain), Mario Gonzalez (Sporting De Gijon – Spain), Filip Krastev and Denil Maldonado will also not be back.
LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington did say the Club was “hopeful” that LAFC legend and 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela will return to the Club for 2024. Vela is currently a free agent.
“I hope there is more to the Carlos Vela story here at LAFC,” Thorrington said. “We are in ongoing conversations with him and his representatives, and we will put our best foot forward with the hope that Carlos will come back to LAFC.”
LAFC midfielder Timothy Tillman arrived to training camp a few days late, but the 25-year-old had a very good reason for a delayed start to his second campaign in Los Angeles.
Tillman made his U.S. Men’s National Team debut on Jan. 20 vs. Slovenia, playing 89 minutes in a 1-0 loss but earning Man of the Match honors for his performance. Tillman was all over the field and completed 97 percent of his passes while creating one shot on target.
Born and raised in Germany, to a German mother and a U.S. serviceman, Tillman holds dual German and United States citizenship and became eligible for the U.S. National Team in May 2023. When he made his international debut, Timothy and his brother Malik became the ninth set of brothers to appear for the U.S. National Team.
LAFC Co-President & GM John Thorrington is expecting Tillman to continue to produce strong showings throughout the season.
“We’re really excited about Timothy taking a big step up this season,” Thorrington said.
SEGURA IS BACK
Another exciting player making his return to the LAFC training field is Eddie Segura. The stalwart defender joined LAFC prior to the 2019 season and quickly established himself as one of the best and most versatile center backs in the league. But the 26-year-old has spent much of the last three years on the sidelines rehabbing and working hard to return after suffering multiple knee injuries that required surgery.
Segura has made 100 MLS appearances (91 starts) for the Black & Gold, but last played on Oct. 20, 2022, in the team’s win over the Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals. He suffered a tear in his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that required two surgeries in the 2022 off-season to repair.
And those surgeries came after he had already recovered from a devasting ACL injury suffered in the summer of 2021, fighting his way back to play in the final 14 games of the 2022 season and helping LAFC to the Supporters’ Shield before going down in the playoffs and missing the 2022 MLS Cup.
“Eddie Segura looks fantastic,” LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington said. “He’s still coming back from an injury but having him come back will really be like a new signing for us.”
Segura was once a rock in the LAFC defense, as he was in the midst of an LAFC record 82 consecutive games played streak before suffering his initial injury on July 24, 2021.
“Eddie is such a great professional,” Thorrington said. “Just an incredible guy – and what a great player that we have the ability to welcome back. He has been looking very sharp in training, and he has worked so hard over these years to get back. Maybe aside from Eddie and his family, there will be nobody more excited to see Eddie back on that field than myself and our entire staff.”
A LOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
LAFC’s core group of returnees put in solid work throughout the week, with players like Mateusz Bogusz, Aaron Long, Sergi Palencia, Erik Dueñas and Nathan Ordaz leading the way in training.
LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington and head coach Steve Cherundolo are expecting big things from that group, many of whom joined the team last year and now have an additional year of learning the Black & Gold system under their belt.
“We feel like we’ve got some great experienced players and that the guys we brought in last year will take a big step forward this year,” Thorrington said. “I am talking about [Timothy] Tillman, Bogusz, Aaron Long, Sergi Palencia and [Cristian] Olivera. That group is a really good group.”
Thorrington was also looking forward to seeing the continued growth and development of former LAFC Academy players Erik Duenas and Nathan Ordaz. The two young players who have come up through the LAFC system will be expected to produce in 2024.
“We are expecting a big step up from [Duenas and Ordaz],” Thorrington said. “We have said from the beginning that our Academy graduates are going to be a big part of what we do at the first team level. We’ve been very careful to not block any paths for some of our players like Erik and Nathan that we think will continue to step forward.”
LAFC started the preseason with three trialists training with the Club. Kenny Nielsen, an Irvine, CA native who was the Club’s second round pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft out of Georgetown University, has been working out with the team throughout the week. The Black & Gold have also had two goalkeepers on trial, former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Brady Scott and former Real Salt Lake and DC United netminder David Ochoa. The Oxnard, CA native started 25 games for Real Salt Lake in 2021 and also appeared in one match with Atletico in Liga MX during the 2022-23 season.