A cautious LAFC to host Nashville in cross-conference match

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
LAFC to host Nashville SC in cross-conference match on Saturday at BMO Stadium.

After nearly a month since winning a match, LAFC are set to host the formidable Nashville SC in the fifth week of the MLS season this Saturday, poised to not only win, but to score their first goal since opening day in February. It’s been a very arid March for the team that once rained goals and often recorded 20+ shots per game, they have scored merely 2 goals and yielded 6 to their opponents. Their former captain, Carlos Vela, who registered 92 goals across his 6 seasons with the club, has left an indelible grey cloud over their usual sunny outcome.

Denís Bouanga, the 2023 Golden Boot winner, is experiencing a goal-scoring drought, waiting for his first of the season, having been rewarded with a contract extension and expansion ahead of their opening match. The Black and Gold has been shut out the last three matches, yet the coaching staff are unfazed. “We’ve been thrown off the last few weeks and we’re trying to get to the bottom of what that is,” said Ante Razov, an assistant coach who has been there from the inception of the club. “But it’s a long season. We’ve all been through this for a long time. Nobody is really panicking about where we are.”

Nobody, except perhaps their current captain, who, while being calm, is placing much of the burden of poor performance from his teammates, on his shoulders. Ilie Sánchez who head coach Steve Cherundolo knighted the successor to Vela’s armband, reflects on that feeling of responsibility. “I feel very responsible for the team not having success in the final third, but also defending our own box. Mainly because the better I play, the better we play in the midfield, in the defense, better chances we will create for our forwards,” he said ahead of their upcoming match against Nashville. “If we can move the ball and circulate it faster, find better spots to receive and turn and then isolate our forwards against three or four of their defenders, I think that’s very clear they will score. And they will keep creating more opportunities.”

The currently undefeated Boys in Gold, coming off their first MLS win of the season, face LAFC in a cross-conference matchup at 7:30pm PT on March 23rd. LAFC are still reeling from a freefall to 10th place in the Western Conference, and have a -4-goal differential. Their rumored attempted acquisition of France’s all-time leading scorer, Olivier Giroud, is months away, and Cherundolo has utilized the same starting formation and lineup in their last 4 matches, citing a lack of need for rest or recovery among his squad rather than a lack of depth. As more doubts pile up around the near future of the 2022 MLS Cup winning club, players, coaches sing the familiar tune from last year, preaching patience with them while they continue to grow into their new identity.

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