LAFC clinch Western Conference, prepare for Houston

Lofty expectations around the Los Angeles Football Club keep being met, whether they play or not.

The night before LAFC’s second to last home match of the season, the club claimed its second ever Western Conference title when Austin FC drew with Nashville on Saturday.

Top-seed conference honors include a first-round playoff bye and qualification for the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League.

All of these were clear goals coming into Steve Cherundolo’s first season as head coach. The team clinched its postseason berth in record-tying Week 25, and, until the last month, set the pace for the Supporters’ Shield.

Prior to playing five of their last half dozen matches on the road, including defeats against a pair of Western teams eliminated from playoff contention, LAFC (19-8-4, 61 points) was in a far better spot than it currently stands, three points behind Philadelphia.

Taking one out of six points on a recent two-city trip seemed like a continuation of the inconsistent form that has hampered LAFC during the final portion of the season. But mental boosts can come in many forms, and avoiding five straight defeats on the road was enough to feel good about themselves.

“We are very conscious that this is going to be us against the world,” midfielder Ilie Sanchez said after the point in Minnesota. “I think that we felt when we were winning that everybody around was talking about how easy it was for us, for LAFC, for this unbelievable squad. And now that we are not getting the results, even if sometimes we deserve more, that’s our reality.

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“We cannot expect anything from the opponents, the referees, the other teams’ fans and media. We have to be strong. We have to close our bubble and fight for nine points until the end. That’s our mentality. That’s where we are at.”

Carlos Vela’s left-footed goal from outside the box, his first at distance in open play since 2019, leveled the match on Tuesday, and the effort to see it through allowed LAFC to return home positive about their situation with three matches to go.

“Over the past couple of weeks things didn’t go our way,” Cherundolo said. “We continued to work hard and believe in ourselves. Any time you can come back, again on the road, in a situation like we have in a second road game, it’s great for morale. It’s certainly in my opinion earned and well done.”

The point provided LAFC an opportunity to tie Philadelphia and grab control of the first tiebreaker with its 20th win. Walking onto the Banc of California Stadium pitch has been a boost all year en route to a league-best 12-1-2 home record.

That was true prior to their well-earned conference title, which could also lift the team’s attitude against the Houston Dynamo (9-16-6, 33 points). The visitors nabbed the clubs’ previous meeting in Texas at the end of August 2-1, then fired the head coach a week later.

On Friday, addressing his players at practice, Cherundolo said they had taken nine out of their 10 steps, and now it was a “matter of taking that last step and affirming our hard work and quality.”


When: Tuesday, 7:38 p.m. PT

Where: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles

TV/Radio: KCOP 13, Estrella TV 62/710 AM, ESPN LA app, 980 AM

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