MLS Powerhouse LAFC hopes to avoid Dodger Blues in playoffs – GNT NEWS

Los Angeles FC spent most of this year reigning atop Major League Soccer. eventually claiming the Supporters’ Shield as the league’s regular season champions for the second time in four years.

And since this star-studded club plays in MLS, a dominant season and half a decade of outstanding success could be severely dampened by one 90-minute playoff game against their cross-town rivals on Thursday night.

“We know that all the things we did in the past during the season no longer matter,” LAFC forward Carlos Vela said. “It’s a completely different competition now.”

LAFC opens the MLS postseason looking to avoid the disappointing fate of another Los Angeles sports powerhouse playing 9 miles from Banc of California Stadium.

Just five days before LAFC hosts the LA Galaxy, the 111-win Dodgers six months of dominance in Major League Baseball vanished in four playoff games against their closest National League rival, the San Diego Padres.

While baseball people debate the fairness of an extended postseasonfirst-year LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo has been busy preparing MLS’ top team for a knockout playoff game that could have a huge impact on how some fans view the season, even if it shouldn’t.

“It’s definitely different than playing for the Supporters’ Shield,” said Cherundolo. “You have 34 chances to complete that job. In a knockout environment you have 90 minutes or 120 minutes and penalties if you need to. I’m not really sure this is the best way to measure a team’s performance throughout the season, so it’s about Thursday night.”

Only seven of the last 26 MLS regular-season champions have also lifted the MLS Cup, and only two teams have done so in the past decade. LAFC also won the Supporters’ Shield in their second season under coach Bob Bradley in 2019, but then lost to Seattle in the Western Conference Finals.

Cherundolo grew up in Southern California, but has spent most of his adult life as a player and coach in Germany, where regular season success is the ultimate goal. This is the case in about three-quarters of the world’s domestic leagues, including all the top European leagues.

With that background in mind, Cherundolo is telling his players to think of the playoffs not as an extension of the regular season, but as a Cup competition with a separate narrative and outcome.

“Every title means something, and they’re all the same to me,” said Cherundolo, who broke the MLS record for most wins by a first-time coach. “The teams I coach, we will try to win every competition we play. They all mean something, so I don’t put one above the other. … We forgot that (Supporters’ Shield). We put it on the shelf in the building and we’re moving on, and that doesn’t mean anything on Thursday.”

LAFC gets a brutal matchup for the first of a potential three playoff rounds: The club opens at home against the Galaxy, who entered the playoffs in their best form of the year.

LAFC has won just one of its last six meetings with the Galaxy, who lost just once in their last 11 regular-season games before beating Nashville last weekend in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Greg Vanney’s club are behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Riqui Puig, an exciting 23-year-old midfielder fresh from Barcelona.

“They changed some parts, but it’s still the same game,” Cherundolo told Galaxy. “They’ve changed a bit in their progression and positional play … but at this stage of the season nobody is trying to reinvent themselves. I think they have a little more confidence than they had in the middle of the season.”

LAFC are not in top form, winning just three of their last nine matches before trying to stay sharp during the current 11-day layoff with a first-round playoff bye. The parallels with the Dodgers’ circumstances are remarkable, but Cherundolo remains confident his top players will step up when needed most.

Gareth Bale hasn’t been a major factor since the long-serving Real Madrid winger moved to America this summer. The Wales World Cup captain has started just twice in 12 appearances for a total of 347 minutes, and although he scored two goals at the start of his tenure, he has gone clean in his last eight games.

Italy star Giorgio Chiellini has contributed more, making nine starts in central defense and clearly influencing his younger teammates since joining from Juventus in the summer.

But LAFC is loaded with talent, and leading scorers Vela and Cristian Arango are healthy and ready to lead this team as if it has nothing to lose on Thursday.

“As players, we live for the big games,” LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “It’s more excitement than nervousness. It’s serious in a way, but we have fun there. We play a child’s game for a living.”

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