LAFC begins a new era, same expectations for 2022 season – Press Enterprise

Los Angeles Football Club visited Denver in November with little hope. But from the outside in, Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta saw otherwise.

Since LAFC joined MLS as an expansion franchise in 2018, LAFC, who begin their fifth season with the Banc of California on Saturday, have garnered as much attention as any club in the 27-year league.

An ambitious celebrity ownership group. A glowing beacon of a stadium being built in downtown Los Angeles and populated by passionate fans. A fun, attacking style of football that made them competitive from the start.

Each of these elements and more sparked conversation and envy within the league, prompting players of Acosta’s caliber to take notice.

“You get pictures and you kind of get jealous and wish you could be a part of it,” the 26-year-old Texan, one of America’s top midfielders, said in February after joining LAFC. “Now that I’m here I’m shocked by the whole culture and everything around the club. I’m really still stunned. You only think it’s empty words before, but when you experience it, it’s very different.”

Defenseman Ryan Hollingshead was in the same camp as Acosta when the 30-year-old defenseman was traded from FC Dallas to LAFC two weeks ago.

As a close friend of Walker Zimmerman, the starting central defender in LAFC’s first two seasons, Hollingshead developed a strong sense early on of where the project could lead.

“My overall picture is that we need more teams like LAFC in the league because they’re taking the league to a level that the league needs to grow to,” he said. “At the moment there are too many differences between the teams.”

This is true when it comes to investments in academy and training facilities, stadiums and player development.

On the field, however, the MLS continues to maintain a tried-and-true parity.

Despite the Blitz, four years under head coach Bob Bradley lacked enough crucial victories to propel LAFC into another stratosphere.

In response to the club’s first missed play-off berth, there were therefore significant changes in the coaching staff and squad of players.

“We tried to bring MLS experience, character and mentality with as much quality as possible,” said Steve Cherundolo, first-year head coach. “And while you’re doing that, you’re trying to balance the squad and I think that’s what we’ve done. I think we did great.”

Free-agent midfielder Ilie Sanchez signed with LAFC after five years in Kansas City for reasons voiced by Acosta and Hollingshead.

Like them, the Spaniard has expectations of playing in a team that wins LAFC’s inaugural MLS Cup, partly because he can’t imagine a scenario where captain Carlos Vela leaves after his contract expires in June.

“It’s not about the individual players,” emphasized Cherundolo. “It’s about LAFC and about winning as many games as possible. I think if we focus on that and focus on that in everything we do, our message is focused on that and our work is focused on that, then we will bring out the best in every player.”

If that’s true of Vela’s case and he’s feeling strong and fit after an injury-plagued 2021, the group will get a big boost on the field.

Vela has played an important role in preseason while he and his teammates, including a new clear No. 1 goalkeeper, Canada’s Maxime Crepeau, have gelled with Cherundolo.

The first compulsory test for the group will be against Acosta’s former teammates.

Rapids already have two official games under their belt in 2022 and are eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League at home after a penalty shoot-out in the snow on Wednesday.


Kicking off: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Where from: Banc of California Stadium

TV/Radio: Univision, TUDN (Spanish)/710 AM; 980 o’clock (Spanish)


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