Know Your Foe: LAFC
Los Angeles FC, commonly known as LAFC, were announced in 2014 as the new Los Angeles-area team to replace the recently defunct Chivas USA. Banc of California Stadium, a 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in downtown LA, broke ground in 2016 and was completed ahead of the team's inaugural season in 2018.
LAFC made two big statements of intent in the summer of 2017 as they built their inaugural roster. First, in July 2017, they announced former US Men's National Team manager and legendary MLS coach Bob Bradley as their head coach. The Black-and-Gold quickly followed this up with the signing of Mexican superstar Carlos Vela as their first Designated Player.
A historic season followed in 2018 as they set a record for points earned by an expansion team (57), finishing third in the Western Conference but getting bounced in the first round of playoffs by Real Salt Lake in a 3-2 defeat.
This disappointment fueled LAFC for year two. They steamrolled the rest of the field en route to the Supporters' Shield and the best-ever regular season in MLS history. As a team, they set records for most points in a season (72) and best goal differential (+48). As individuals, Carlos Vela produced the single best offensive season ever seen in the league with 34 goals and 15 assists, bettering the entire offensive production of nine MLS teams and earning Landon Donovan MVP honors. Bob Bradley was also awarded the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year and Walker Zimmerman and Eduard Atuesta were named to the MLS Best XI alongside Vela.
However, despite their regular season dominance, LAFC fell one game short of playing for an MLS Cup, losing 3-1 to the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference final.
Their performance in 2019 qualified them for the 2020 Concacaf Champions League where, after a hiatus for the Covid-19 pandemic, they advanced past three different Liga MX sides (Club Leon, Cruz Azul, and Club America) to become the third MLS side at the time to reach the final. A fourth Mexican side proved too much, though, as LAFC were beaten 2-1.
Outside of the club's impressive Champions League run, they also participated in the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida, where they lost in a quarterfinal penalty shootout to eventual finalist Orlando City SC. When league play returned in late 2020, LAFC finished seventh in the Western Conference but fell for the second time in the playoffs to Seattle, losing 3-1 in the First Round.
In their fourth season in the league, LAFC endured a tough, injury-plagued 2021 where they finished ninth in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for the first time in their history. Following the disappointing season, head coach Bob Bradley departed to take over Toronto FC and former USMNT player Steve Cherundolo was hired as the club's second head coach.
LAFC has been rewarded for their managerial change as Cherundolo has returned the club to the top of the table. The Black-and-Gold hit the ground running in 2022 behind a reworked roster still featuring Carlos Vela at the forefront of the attack. They currently sit six points clear (51 total) in first place of the Supporters' Shield standings, with three more wins (16 total) than their next closest competitor.
Despite a dominant start to the season, the ambitious Los Angeles club have only added to their star-studded roster during the Secondary Transfer Window. Legendary Italian center back Giorgio Chiellini and Welsh superstar Gareth Bale were added from Juventus and Real Madrid, respectively. On Deadline Day, they also bought DP winger Denis Bouanga for $5 million from French club St. Etienne.
Cristian Arango: While he's not the biggest name on the roster, Arango is having the best statistical season of any LAFC attacker. After a slow start to the season, the Colombian has been on fire as of late, taking advantage of service from Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale to score nine goals in his last 11 matches.
José Cifuentes: After arriving at LAFC in 2020, Cifuentes is having a career year in midfield for the Black-and-Gold. He has six goals and five assists in a box-to-box midfield role and has been critical to the club's sustained success on both ends of the pitch this year. He was arguably one of the biggest All-Star snubs of the year, which does mean he will be fresh and rested for Saturday's matchup.
Giorgio Chiellini: The 37-year-old center back, considered one of the best defenders of his generation with 117 caps for Italy and a decorated career with Juventus, does not appear to be approaching life in Los Angeles as an early retirement. He has started their last four games in MLS, winning all four and adding valuable experience to their backline.
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