LAFC looks to buck trend in must-win playoff against Galaxy

LOS ANGELES — Careful what you wish for, Los Angeles Football Club.

Over the past 10 years, only one regular-season conference winner made it to the MLS Cup final. (In 2017, Toronto FC won everything.) That’s a meager 5% of the supposed best teams in MLS parlaying season strength into a shot at the league championship.

LAFC’s odds only worsen if you care about history.

For eight of the past 10 years, at least one top seed has failed to advance. Last year both regular-season conference champions did not survive their opening match, joining both top seeds in 2016, 2012 and 2007 in getting unceremoniously bounced after earning a bye past the first round.

Highlighting how rare it is for conference winners to string postseason wins together, the last time No. 1 seeds met with an MLS Cup on the line was 2003. Since the league began in 1996 this happened twice, making it way too early for LAFC to care how the Philadelphia Union, which also finished with 67 points, fares on the Eastern Conference side of the bracket.

All that matters for LAFC and its supporters is winning on Thursday night, when record-setting rookie head coach Steve Cherundolo gets his first taste of MLS Cup playoff action against Greg Vanney’s surging Galaxy at the Banc of California Stadium.

Vanney improved his impressive postseason record to 11-5-2 when the Galaxy, playing as well as they have all year, defeated Nashville SC, 1-0, on Saturday.

“Winning in the season is different than winning in a knockout tournament,” noted the Galaxy coach, who also managed the aforementioned Toronto team in 2017. “That comes with the pressure of expectation. We’ll see. It’s for us to put the pressure on them and see if they can handle it.”

Casting aside previous clashes against the Galaxy this year (LAFC split two league matches and lost a U.S. Open Cup knockout contest at Dignity Health Sports Park), and the regular season in general, Cherundolo, 43, sees no point in looking back at what other teams have – or haven’t – done. That includes his own, which was consistently positive in the way it won, played and scored in 2022.

“The regular season has ended,” Cherundolo said. “It ended with LAFC as the Supporters’ Shield champions. We have forgotten that. We have put that on a shelf in the building and we are moving on. That means nothing on Thursday.”

Peering forward the coach expects the tone and tenor of the playoffs to be similar to the German Cups, Europa League knockout matches and World Cup knockout competition that he is familiar with.

“As players, we live for the big games,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who lifted the Supporters’ Shield with Colorado before that squad lost its first playoff match last year. “Thursday is another test for us to go in the right direction. For us, it’s more exciting. It’s not nervousness. We’re excited to go out and prove we belong here in the postseason. We belong even past this game. We have to take each game for what it is.”

The chaotic nature of MLS playoffs was unkind to LAFC under former head coach Bob Bradley, who went a disappointing 1-3. However, Bradley’s Supporters’ Shield winners avoided a conference semifinal pie in the face by defeating the Galaxy for the first time in six meetings between the rivals in 2019.

Related Articles

Los Angeles Football Club |

LAFC stumbles in regular-season finale against Nashville

Los Angeles Football Club |

LAFC, with Supporters’ Shield in hand, not letting up against Nashville

Los Angeles Football Club |

LAFC clinches MLS Supporters’ Shield with victory over Portland

Los Angeles Football Club |

LAFC prepares for ‘difficult opponent’ in Portland

Los Angeles Football Club |

Galaxy to return to Rose Bowl to kick off 2023 season against LAFC

Carlos Vela, Latif Blessing and Eddie Segura are the only remaining LAFC players who faced the Galaxy that year.

Seattle put a halt to LAFC’s joy a few days later by taking the Western Conference title at Banc of California Stadium and tagging the Black & Gold to the list of MLS points leaders that fell short in the playoffs. Three years later, following an 11-day break between the regular-season finale and the Western Conference semifinals, Vela, LAFC’s now 33-year-old captain, declared the team is ready to make the most of the home-field advantage it earned.

“This time I think we have more experience in the group,” said Vela, who will make his fourth MLS playoff appearance in five years after LAFC did not qualify in 2021. “We also have more depth on our squad. I think everybody is a little more fresh because we rotate a lot.

“Everybody feels a part of this group, important in the group. I think we did a lot of good things but of course we know in this league all the things you did in the season doesn’t matter right now. We have to focus on three more games and have to work for it.”


When: Thursday, 7:25 p.m. PT

Where: Banc of California Stadium

TV/Radio: FS1, Fox Deportes/710 AM, 980 AM

Share the Post:

Related Posts