LAFC kicks off the 2024 season at home against Seattle Sounders

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
New look LAFC to kick off their 2024 MLS season with a rivalry match against Seattle Sounders.

LOS ANGELES — The 29th season of MLS kicked off this week with a marquee match when Inter Miami hosted and defeated Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, while the remaining 27 clubs have their opening day matches on Saturday and Sunday. LAFC, the 2022 MLS Cup Champions who were arguably put through the ringer in 2023 traveling over 63,000 miles while playing a league high 53 matches, will host Seattle Sounders at BMO Stadium on Saturday at 1:30pm PT in a rematch of the 2023 MLS Western Conference Semifinal.

In that pivotal match, MLS Golden Boot sensation Denís Bouanga hammered in a 30th minute goal that sent the Sounders packing and pole-vaulted the Black and Gold to their third Western Conference Final in five years. Akin to a bee sting that hasn’t stopped swelling, the memories of it haunt the team from Emerald City. Earlier in the week, Seattle’s head coach Brian Schmetzer sounded off to members of the media that the checkered past between the two western clubs continues to fuel a growing competitive spirit between the two coastal teams.

“Portland is still our number one rival… but LAFC is creeping up there. I had that goal that LAFC scored in the playoffs up on my computer all through the holiday season,” he recounted. “During the first meeting I had with the team when they came back, I reminded them of the opportunity we had, had we gotten past LAFC. We would have guaranteed ourselves another home game against Houston… and we could have had another shot at another MLS Cup appearance. Credit to them, they got the opportunity. Bouanga is obviously a quality player who made us pay, but that goal is still sticking with me, and I’m reminding the guys of the opportunity we lost. Yes, it’s a rivalry.”

Only one of the LAFC originals expected to make an appearance at their season opening match remains yet it’s a known fact that the Rave Green handed the Black and Gold their first-ever win in the expansion side’s inaugural match in 2018. As with love, you never forget your first. The Sounders however defeated LAFC in the 2019 Western Conference Final on their way to winning their second MLS Cup. Yet they have not beaten LA since 2021, and moreover didn’t score a single goal against them in 2023.  Notably absent from the 2024 opening match will be the captains of both teams – while LAFC’s emblematic first signing Carlos Vela remains in contract negotiations, Seattle’s longtime leader Nicolás Lodeira parted ways with the team during the offseason.

LAFC have made several changes to their 2023 roster with nearly 17 players leaving the club including their talisman, Carlos Vela whose future remains unclear. Six newcomers have been brought into the fold including the legendary World Cup winning French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who joined the team after a 11-year career at Tottenham. He is arguably one of the top 5 goalkeepers in MLS having led his nation to two consecutive World Cup Finals, and holds the all-time record for most appearances by a goalkeeper in World Cup matches (20).

And, he’s already making an impression on his new teammates and coach here in the US. During the Coachella Valley Invitational, Lloris had the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess and finesse. “It’s a pleasure to see [him] in real time. And, different than Giorgio [Chiellini] I think. A silent leader off the field in his own right,” head coach Steve Cherundolo explained to reporters on media day. Lloris didn’t fail to impress upon anyone within earshot that he is quite vocal, giving his teammates constructive tips and pointers throughout the matches. “I think within the backline we get a sense of calmness a sense of ease. A good voice that we can listen to,” defender Aaron Long elaborated. “The leadership qualities he’s going to bring are something I haven’t seen before.”

The 2022 MLS Cup winners also acquired midfielder Eduard Atuesta on loan from Brazilian first-division club, Palmerias. Atuesta helped LAFC win the 2019 Supporters’ Shield. And left-back Omar Campos from Liga MX’s Santos Laguna is expected to help fill the role Diego Palacios held for five years before he was transferred to Brazilian side Corinthians. Eddie Segura, the sure-footed defender who is the only remaining LAFC original currently on the roster, returned from his year-long right ACL injury recovery after helping his team lift the 2022 MLS Cup and Supporters Shield. David Martinez from Venezuela’s Monagas SC and Tomás Angel from Atlético Nacional in Colombia’s First Division round out the winter signings as the team’s newest forwards, joining Bouanga, Cristian Olivera and Nathan Ordaz in attacking roles. Italian defender Lorenzo Dellavalle from LAFC2 of MLS Next Pro also signed on with the first team but is unavailable due to injury sustained during preseason.

LAFC have had one of the shortest preseasons in the league and there are many questions that linger for how Cherundolo will piece together this young team, but true to the DNA of the club, expectations remain high. Both he and his players have maintained that while league roster rules prohibit clubs from growing a super team legacy in which players who have won MLS Cups are retained for future seasons, their foundation lies in sustaining high expectations regardless of roster limits forcing a lopsided mix of youth and experience.

“I expect younger players to train harder than more experienced players. You need to do more to surpass those players,” Cherundolo declared. “A strong mentality goes a long way, but the work is irreplaceable.” And thus, a season of hard work lies ahead as the Black and Gold face the Sounders in a full circle moment; while this is the second time the two have faced each other in a home opener, this time it is not on Seattle’s turf.