By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 21, 2022) US Soccer Players – Soccer clubs are always in the business of selling. Fans aren’t going to line up to see your team play if you tell them everything is bad. Even teams with no reasonable way to spin obvious failure will line their pitch with words of hope. For clubs that haven’t lived up to expectations, the people who make the decisions have choices to make about how to characterize their efforts. In other words, no one wants to admit they’re in a “rebuilding” phase.
LAFC isn’t rebuilding, not according to co-president and general manager John Thorrington. In a SiriusXM interview earlier this week, Thorrington said he doesn’t put negative connotations on rebuilding. “It’s not a dirty word. I don’t think it’s an accurate description, in my opinion,” he said. “I see this as just the evolution of this team. It’s not a revolution, but rather an evolution. And I think we have had a largely successful four years and laid the foundation on which we can build.”
The word “evolution” is a middle ground between the tacit admission of struggle to come from a rebuild and risking over confidence. Thorrington isn’t going to say that his club is in great shape because two seasons without a playoff appearance suggests otherwise. However, with the success of 2019 still relatively fresh in fan memory and some key pieces linking the two eras still in place, LAFC doesn’t have to talk about starting over.
It’s a pretty good problem for Thorrington to have. The team he built under head coach Bob Bradley was successful enough that it set a high bar for every LAFC season. The club made the playoffs in its expansion season and set a points record in year two. Everyone, including opposition fans, expected LAFC to challenge for championships as the 2020s dawned.
That didn’t happen. COVID-19’s impact on LAFC was significant. 2021 ended with a high, reaching the Concacaf Champions League final in a tournament held in Orlando in December, but 2022 proved disappointing. Bradley parted ways with the club after the season and Thorrington went in search of his replacement.
Where evolution may fall short is when a team switches coaches. The head coach is the most visible position at any club, more so for a team that has had just one head coach in its short history. Bradley’s shadow is long at LAFC, even if the history is limited and the club didn’t win a championship under his guidance.
It’s difficult to separate the identity of LAFC from Bradley. Rather than a distinct change of scope, Thorrington and LAFC decided to ease their way into the post-Bradley era. Their new coach will continue much of his approach but with fresh eyes.
Former US international and Las Vegas Lights head coach Steve Cherundolo steps into the role that was previously held by his mentor. What Cherundolo lacks in experience, his lone season in Las Vegas was his only one as a first-team head coach, he makes up for in familiarity with LAFC.
LAFC attempts to move forward with a coach they know, eschewing the temptation to sign a name coach with a richer resume. That seems to be a trend across Major League Soccer this winter. Houston (Paolo Nagamura), Cincinnati (Pat Noonan), Chicago (Ezra Hendrickson), and Dallas (Nico Estevez) all hired coaches with little to no experience leading senior teams.
The difference is that none of those clubs can claim to be doing anything but rebuilding. The four teams at the bottom of the standings, with no recent history of success, are selling hope. That can pay off in a league like MLS, but ti’s different in Los Angeles.
LAFC’s resources, market, and the aspiration they demand put Cherundolo under greater pressure than any of his fellow freshman head coaches from the outset. Thorrington knows this. He also knows that “evolution” means finding players who can help Cherundolo prove himself to be the right choice to man the sideline.
There’s no criticizing Thorrington for lack of action in revamping the squad. In a busy winter, LAFC has been among the busiest clubs. That included Franco Escobar, Isnael Tajouri-Shradi, Illie Sanchez, and a move for USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta. Earlier this week, they added Canadian international goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. Rumors are swirling that LAFC has more moves in the works
For some clubs, the sheer number of transactions would be an indication that rebuilding was underway. Roster turnover doesn’t speak to stability. But this is LAFC.
Maybe “rebuild” isn’t a dirty word, but perhaps it’s also not exactly the cleanest way to talk about an ambitious club working on making itself a contender again, either. Welcome to the evolution of LAFC.
More From Jason Davis:
- The Homegrown Player rule continues to work for MLS
- What the transfer market may mean for the USL Championship
- Jordan Morris and Aaron Long’s return to the USMNT
- Houston’s rebuild starts with the decision makers
Photo by Howard C Smith – ISIPhotos.com