Not many first-division managers begin their careers by finishing at the top of the table, winning a league championship, and competing in a second league final in Year Two.
Steve Cherundolo’s name is on that short list, and Wednesday’s announcement that the LAFC head coach will remain in that role through 2024 and beyond offers assurance that more success is on the way. Top-tier football is a results-based business; and few MLS managers have produced greater results out of the gate than Cherundolo has since he was hired on January 3, 2022 to lead the Black & Gold.
The only manager in MLS history to win the Supporters’ Shield (for best regular-season record) and MLS Cup in his first season, Cherundolo’s overall regular-season winning percentage of .618 stands as the third-best in MLS history among managers who have coached at least 60 games.
What LAFC accomplished under Cherundolo in 2023 might be his most impressive achievement to date.
No MLS club has played more games than the 53 the Black & Gold played in 2023, across all competitions. LAFC reached the final of Concacaf Champions League (since renamed Champions Cup), an accomplishment that added eight games to the club’s MLS regular-season schedule and stretched thin Cherundolo’s list of available players. By the time LAFC traveled to Kansas City on June 17 for an MLS regular-season game, Cherundolo had changed his starting XI in 24 consecutive matches. It’s hard to win that way, but winning is exactly what LAFC did, defeating SKC to earn a share of first place in the Western Conference on its way to an eventual third seed in the 2023 MLS Cup playoffs.
On that same June day in Kansas City, LAFC became the fastest team to reach 300 points in MLS history, achieving that milestone in just five-and-a-half seasons. Cherundolo was on the sideline for 96 of those 300 points, gathering nearly two-thirds of LAFC’s all-time total in just a season-and-a-half.
LAFC still had 18 MLS regular-season games to play at that point, plus three Leagues Cup fixtures and a grueling Campeones Cup final against Mexican champions Tigres UANL. Under Cherundolo’s leadership, the club not only survived the remainder of 2023, it thrived, winning the first two road playoff games in LAFC history before finally falling in rainy Columbus, Ohio, in its second straight MLS Cup final appearance.
And that’s just Cherundolo’s on-field impact.
Cherundolo, who will turn 45 in February, still carries the youth and energy he displayed throughout the early 2000s as an elite defender in the Bundesliga (Germany’s top division), and with the U.S. Mens National Team. His vitality has helped him forge strong relationships with LAFC’s young roster of international players. His commitment to LAFC’s development pipeline, including its academy and MLS NEXT Pro team, LAFC2, led to this week’s promotion of LAFC2 manager Enrique Duran to Cherundolo’s first-team staff for 2024.
“We all love Steve,” LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta said on the eve of the 2023 MLS Cup final. “He has brought the best out of all of us. We’re not back in MLS Cup by chance. It has to do with how he coaches us, how he was able to bring the best out of everyone. Our togetherness.
“I can’t speak for everyone,” added Acosta, himself a USMNT veteran, “but [LAFC players] want to come in and train. We just enjoy it so much … and that’s because of the culture this coaching staff has established. You’re not just going to play the game, you’re going to play with your brothers, your friends.”
When LAFC captain and club legend Carlos Vela was asked recently about Cherundolo, the English Premier League and La Liga alumnus used the words “character,” “good vibes,” “chill,” “freedom,” and “happy.”
Defender Giorgio Chiellini, who retired earlier this month after two decades at the pinnacle of international football, said: “I was positively surprised about Steve. I think that his best
quality is to maintain the balance in every moment of the game, and in every moment of
“I found a friend also,” the 39-year-old Chiellini added. “If you look at the other [players], Steve is closer to my age than Carlos [Vela]. He also has a fantastic family. They welcomed and helped me during my first period in L.A., with his daughters. My relationship that I created with Steve is something that will remain for my whole life. I think he is also very good at his job. He is just at the beginning, but he can have a lot of success.”
With all due respect to Chiellini, he already has.