Challenging, fatiguing, intense. Fun, even.
“Those are all accurate adjectives to use,” Los Angeles Football head coach Steve Cherundolo said Friday, describing the experience of his team’s month-long marathon. “It’s all of the above.”
Beating Philadelphia on May 2 sent LAFC through to the CONCACAF Champions League final, but the schedule hasn’t offered Cherundolo, his staff or the players a chance to dwell on the anticipated two-leg continental matchup versus Mexico’s Leon beginning on the 31st.
Succeeding during an otherwise busy slate of matches actually required that they don’t.
“The interesting mindset that we’ve had and the coaches had is none of these games are throwaway games,” defender Ryan Hollingshead said.
Setting a high bar is the basis for LAFC (6-1-4, 22 points) ranking among the early Supporters’ Shield leaders (second in the Western Conference with a league-best plus-12 goal differential) while also advancing in the U.S. Open Cup as they take steps to be at full strength when the championship for the most important club competition in the region kicks off.
Balancing roster depth and player health against selecting lineups that can win games is what coaches do. But working through game-to-game preparations by building game plans and dissecting video at the pace LAFC has been going can get mentally fatiguing, Cherundolo admitted.
“It’s just a lot of hours,” he noted. “Even the short excursion back to the USL against Monterey the other night. So it’s a lot of energy. It’s a lot of work. But we love to work and are up to the challenge. So far our players have responded in an amazing manner and we’re very proud of them, as I am of the staff.”
A win in one of LAFC’s next five league matches will make Cherundolo the winningest coach in MLS history through his first 50 games. Since taking over for Bob Bradley, Cherundolo has shown a knack for aligning the correct pieces at the right times.
Dropping points at home for the first time this year, LAFC drew Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday while using 16 of their 19 available players as Kellyn Acosta, Giorgio Chiellini, Aaron Long and Jesus Murillo work their way back from leg injuries.
“We have obviously a fairly deep roster and very good players who don’t play every week,” Cherundolo said. “So I think it’s in our best interest and the players’ best interest to use guys that are sometimes more fresh than others and sometimes it makes sense to stretch guys and push them for another 90 minutes.”
LAFC is 3-1-1 in May with three matches to go.
A 2-1 setback at Levi’s Stadium earlier in the month against the San Jose Earthquakes is the only defeat so far for LAFC in league play. Defensive errors and impatience in scoring areas were the culprits that day, but falling to San Jose (5-4-3, 18 points) can’t be pinned on the crowded calendar because LAFC has gone down in six of the teams’ last eight contests.
The familiar foes meet again Saturday night at BMO Stadium.
“They’re never going to come with a lack of energy,” said Hollingshead, whose old friend and coach Luchi Gonzalez took over San Jose last August and quickly got buy-in from the players. “They’re always going to come with everything they have. So we need to be able to match that intensity and I think we’ll be able to.”
SAN JOSE AT LAFC
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: BMO Stadium
TV/Radio: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass/710 AM, 980 AM