The year 2022 will be one that LAFC fans will never forget. The club closed the 2022 MLS season in incredible fashion after winning its first MLS Cup on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union on penalties. The game felt like something you only see in a Hollywood movie. This is a great opportunity to take a look at the script and recap some of the best moments, key players and decisions that led LAFC to glory.
Probably one of the most criticized people in the club in 2021, deservedly in my opinion, was probably one of the most important this year. Just like it takes an architect to set the foundation for a new building, Thorrington was just that for this club. He made a huge statement this year with his work as general manager. Bringing players like Ilie Sanchez, Ryan Hollingshead, Kellyn Acosta, and Maxime Crepeau. Making LAFC a clear contender for the title from the start, and those moves paid off. LAFC went on to being one of the most dominant team of the year and probably one of the best runs ever in MLS. And if that wasn’t enough, Thorrington and LAFC went on and brought experienced, champions-caliber players like Giorgio Chiellini, Gareth Bale, Cristian Tello and Denis Bouanga. Players that played a CRUCIAL role at the end of the season for LAFC. But the biggest bet that Thorrington took was replacing Bob Bradley with Steve Cherundolo. While most people expected a more known name, maybe even a more experienced one, Thorrington bet on Cherundolo. A move that even I didn’t trust. My expectations and those of many weren’t high. And while the were some bumps on the road and there were tough moments, Cherunolo has proven he’s the right man to lead this club forward and lead future projects with. I tilt my hat for him.
The Bounce Back
After a brilliant and dominating run from LAFC, where they only lost three league games from February to August, they seemed like a record breaking team. But then came the bad run in late August. The Black and Gold lost as many games in the last 11 days in August, as they did the previous 6 months. Cherundolo’s team went on to win only 3 games of the last 9. It seemed like everyone was pressing the panic button. Analysts, experts and fans wondering If this squad, arguably the best in MLS history, was gonna fail and be the biggest disappointment in the history of the league. But the squad showed great personality and character when it mattered the most. The club went on to win in Portland and clinch the Supporters’ Shield. Kept up the pressure against the LA Galaxy and beat their crosstown rivals once again and then went on to perform their best football of the season against a hot Austin FC team. And in the final, well, we all remember what happened. This team had to deal with the biggest pressure in the league. It was MLS Cup or bust. Since that game in Seattle in 2018, this team was born to be big. It has had pressure since the beginning and when you add Bale, Chiellini, Bouanga and Tello to the already best roster in MLS, pressure only piles on. But pressure makes diamonds and this team is for sure shines like one.
Ilie “The MVP” Sanchez
The pivot position is in my opinion the most underrated in football. Great players usually go under the radar and their work goes unnoticed. Yes, Carlos Vela, Bouanga, Bale were all important and a joy to watch, but the true balance, heart and key piece in this team is Ilie Sanchez. His positioning, passing and vision is unique in this league, specially for the football that LAFC plays. It is no coincidence as to why LAFC is one team with him and one completely different with him off the field. He is sort of what Sergio Busquets has been to Barcelona all these years. A player that is crucial to his team, but not many people aim their cameras on. Which is why it was only right that the last and winning penalty was scored by Sanchez. He’s the golden heart in a black and gold team. Next time you are at the Banc or watching LAFC on tv, pay attention to Sanchez. You’ll be able to see the whole game through him.