June 19, 2024

Just eleven days have elapsed since the last encounter between LAFC and the Timbers at Providence Park, which ended in a 2-2 draw. In the past weekend, both teams played to another 2-2 draw – LAFC against the Red Bulls at home and Portland against the Crew in Columbus. Ahead of Saturday’s rematch with the Timbers, LAFC (3W-3L-3D) focused on staying unbeaten in April and securing three points in front of a packed BMO Stadium.

At the LAFC Performance Center on Thursday, centerbacks Jesús Murillo (who missed the Red Bulls match due to knee discomfort) and Aaron Long (who left the Red Bulls match after injuring his shin on the goal frame) were present. They had started LAFC’s first eight games together in defense.

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“Murillo trained today, and he looks good with no symptoms,” said head coach Steve Cherundolo. “Aaron will be fine, but he might need another day or two. We’ll see how he progresses tomorrow.”

Regarding facing a conference rival again shortly after their previous encounter, Cherundolo noted, “Not much changes in two weeks. We keep track of yellow cards, suspensions, and injuries, which can alter teams slightly. We also analyze our recent performance against each other more than performances against other teams.”

Cherundolo remains focused on addressing the defensive lapses from last weekend’s draw with New York, particularly the two goals conceded from corner kicks. He emphasized the rarity of such occurrences for LAFC and expressed concern over these lapses. He recalled a similar situation in the 2022 MLS Cup final against Philadelphia, where they also conceded on two set pieces.

Reflecting on the goals conceded against Portland two weeks ago, Cherundolo noted that one was due to defensive organization issues, while the other occurred during a transition moment. He acknowledged Portland’s strength in exploiting such situations, thanks to their creativity and unpredictability. Cherundolo assured that they are working on solutions to improve their defensive performance ahead of the upcoming match.

Against New York, LAFC deviated from their usual starting lineup by fielding Kei Kamara as the center forward instead of Mateusz Bogusz, marking the first time this season they opted for a different player in the “number 9” role, typically reserved for the team’s primary goal scorer. While Bogusz has scored three goals in 2024, including two against Portland, Kamara, boasting 144 career MLS goals (the third-highest in league history), is yet to find the net for LAFC. Despite their distinct playing styles, both players contribute valuable qualities to the team.

Winger Cristian Olivera explained that Bogusz focuses on creating space for his teammates, whereas Kamara excels at holding up the ball and providing breathing room for others. However, Olivera emphasized that their different characteristics do not disrupt the team’s dynamics.

Bogusz himself acknowledged that while his natural position is as a number 8, he adapts to the number 9 role when LAFC is pressing, positioning himself centrally in the attack. He described his playing style as a blend of a number 9 and a number 8, as he drops deeper to participate in the build-up play when LAFC has possession.

Overall, Bogusz emphasized that both he and Kamara contribute effectively to the team’s objectives, and as long as he continues to assist the team, they are unlikely to make changes. He recognized the long season ahead and remained open to adjustments as needed.

Denis Bouanga has emerged as a pivotal figure for LAFC, showcasing his prowess by scoring 46 goals in just over a season and a half across all competitions. With two Golden Boots and multiple hat tricks to his name, Bouanga is undoubtedly viewed as the team’s leader, albeit in his own understated manner.

Head coach Steve Cherundolo described Bouanga as a leader by example, noting his relatively reserved demeanor both on and off the field. Despite being primarily an attacker, Bouanga shoulders the responsibility of leadership, which can be challenging given the emphasis on goal-scoring and personal performance in his position. Cherundolo acknowledged that Bouanga has been critical of his own production this season but remains confident that he will regain his form.

Winger Cristian Olivera echoed Cherundolo’s sentiments, emphasizing Bouanga’s importance to the team and his personal impact on his teammates. Despite the language barrier between them, Olivera highlighted Bouanga’s ability to offer guidance and support both on and off the field.

Cherundolo emphasized Bouanga’s diverse contributions to the team, highlighting his ability to lead through his scoring prowess, playmaking skills, defensive contributions, and ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Bouanga’s multifaceted approach to leadership plays a crucial role in driving the team’s success.

The acquisition of Denis Bouanga by LAFC two summers ago was just one example of the trend of Major League Soccer attracting high-profile international players in their prime.

From LAFC’s signing of Chicho Arango from Colombia’s top division at the age of 26 in 2021 to the Timbers’ acquisition of versatile attacker Evander from Denmark at 24 in 2022, MLS has transformed into more than just a stepping stone for players; it has become a destination.

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Steve Cherundolo, who has played extensively in various leagues around the world, including Germany’s Bundesliga and the U.S. Men’s National Team, noted the league’s improved reputation and quality of play. He emphasized the importance of continuing to evolve and invest in MLS, especially with the momentum building towards the 2026 World Cup.

Maxime Crépeau will make his return to BMO Stadium on Saturday night as a member of the Timbers, marking his first match there since joining Portland as a free agent over the winter. Crépeau last played in LA during LAFC’s 2-0 victory over Houston in the Western Conference final on December 2, 2023.

LAFC will face the Portland Timbers in their upcoming match on Saturday, April 27, at 7:30pm PT. The game will be broadcast on Apple TV – MLS Season Pass, with additional radio coverage available on 710 AM ESPN, ESPN LA App, KFWB 980 AM La Mera Mera (Spanish), and Sirius XM FC (English & Spanish).

 

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