Soccer-LAFC bank on new coach, fresh faces to return to the playoffs

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – LAFC are betting that new head coach Steve Cherundolo, a healthy Carlos Vela and new blood will help turn the page on a disappointing 2021 season in which they missed out on the MLS playoffs for the first time.

Speaking to reporters from a sun-soaked training camp on Thursday, Cherundolo said the mood was upbeat as the team begins to gear up for its season opener on Feb. 26.

“The first couple days have included a lot of input for the guys, but they’ve been very receptive and full of energy,” said Cherundolo, who replaced Bob Bradley after the team finished ninth in the Western Conference last season.

The absence of star forward Vela for much of the campaign due to injury was a big reason the expansion franchise missed expectations in just its fourth season in the league.

But Vela is reportedly back to full strength and oddsmakers have pegged the black-and-gold as early favorites to win the MLS Cup alongside Seattle and New England.

In addition to adding Cherundolo, the team acquired veteran midfielders Ilie Sanchez and Kellyn Acosta to plug holes left by offseason departures.

“Both are winners, both are team players, both are very good communicators. All attributes we were looking for,” Cherundolo said.

The team also added versatile defender Franco Escobar, who won the MLS Cup with Atlanta in 2018.

“He’s an MLS champion and he is bringing that to the training field every single day,” Cherundolo said.

“It’s very important for our younger players to see that experience and to understand what it takes to win.”

And the biggest offseason news may be yet to come.

LAFC are reportedly on the cusp of acquiring goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau from the Vancouver Whitecaps, a move that would provide stability at the position after three different keepers played regularly last season.

“We have nothing official to announce right now,” Cherundolo said when asked about Crepeau. “I do know talks are underway, so we hope to have big news soon.”

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Ed Osmond)