A More Global and Successful LAFC

LAFC is on the brink of their first MLS Cup Final, and potentially the highest level of achievement in the league, the MLS Cup. If they succeed in defeating their Eastern Conference rival, Philadelphia Union, this Saturday afternoon, all their roster moves and the uncomfortable transitions of the regular season will have been the reason for their historical achievement. Discomfort precedes growth. LAFC has always had a global signature, but in 2022 they diversified even further with crucial signings, both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2021, the LAFC roster was representative of 12 nations. In 2022, 14 different countries comprise the star-studded lineup where it has become clear, it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you bring to the team.

Nations represented by LAFC player – 2021 versus 2022 – made with

They not only leveled up in their spending, raising their wages from approximately $15 million to $23 million, they raised the expectations. This team likes to win. This team is hungry. Expectations were always to make the playoffs,” head coach Steve Cherundolo asserted in his final pre-Cup press conference. “We found ourselves as a group.”

In total, 12 new players joined LAFC in 2022, six of whom are regular playmakers in the playoffs now, including Ilie Sánchez, Kellyn Acosta, Maxine Crépeau, Ryan Hollingshead, Giorgio Chiellini, and Denis Bouanga. Sánchez, in particular, who was previously at Sporting Kansas City before signing as a free agent, spent eight years in Spain’s Segunda División and Germany’s second division Bundesliga. His experiences there as right-back and defensive midfielder, followed by his development into an All-Star player during his time with Kansas City, and a coaching license have shaped him into an overall leader on and off the field for the rest of his teammates.

Teammate, Giorgio Chiellini, has been outstanding enough that he doesn’t need to play the full 90-minutes on the field. He’s played for Livorno, Fiorentina, Juventus, and of course the Italian National Team before joining LAFC with over 20 years of experience as a defender in Italy. And it shows in every match with his domination as a defensive leader. Even Kellyn Acosta, a midfielder from Colorado Rapids who helped them become the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in 2021, gave high praise for Chiellini, who apparently watches every single MLS match. “Giorgio wears a lot of hats, player, coach, mentor, brother, friend. He does it all. He takes this very seriously, starting in the gym, to the trainings, to the games. His energy is huge for us,” Acosta reiterates. “I soak it up like a sponge.” Indeed, watching Chiellini is a masterclass for all. His contribution ripples throughout their team’s defense.

Gabon international and Designated Player, Denis Bouanga, spent most of his career playing in France’s Ligue 1. As a winger with 97 appearance for Saint Etienne where he notched 26 goals, his addition to LAFC made the transformation of the club complete. LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington spoke to that upon the announcement of his signing.  “What Denis’ signing says about the league and about LAFC is that we are now attracting players in their prime from Europe that are choosing to come here. That’s a testament to what LAFC has done as a club, providing a platform that’s very appealing to these players, as well as the league.” Bouanga began playing for LA in September, took a month to get accustomed to MLS, then things started really heating up for him. He’s taken 10 on-target shots at goal since October, scoring a brace for his side in the critical match against LA Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinal. His average passing accuracy over 75% during the past month has guaranteed him a spot up front with captain Carlos Vela.

While the growth into a European player pool is notable, LAFC has also blended that with targeting signings of MLS talent. Former FC Dallas veteran Hollingshead, who was the highest scoring defender in the league in 2019, also continues to step up as a consistent defender for the Black and Gold. He’s played across 30 matches in the regular season, netting 6 goals and providing a solid passing rate over 80% in those games.

LAFC tapped into South American talent early on in their history, but as of 2022, they again led the league by honing in on a region of the world they hadn’t yet reached. MLS represents over 80 nations. This is just the beginning of a global transformation across the board. The U.S. is a melting pot and MLS teams ought to be as well.

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