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SOCCER

LAFC’s Ilie Sánchez talks to AS about Gareth Bale’s arrival in MLS

Speaking to AS, Los Angeles FC’s Spanish midfielder Ilie Sánchez reacted to the news that former Real Madrid forward Bale is to join the MLS franchise.

Update:
El español Ilie Sánchez, durante un partido de la MLS estadounidense con Los Ángeles FC.

Spanish midfielder Ilie Sánchez’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Gareth Bale revealed he’d be continuing his career at MLS franchise Los Angeles FC, after nine years at Real Madrid. “I’ve had calls from all over”, says Sánchez, who signed for LAFC in January and has established himself as a key figure in the Black and Gold’s engine room. He’s excited about the arrival of the Welshman, who, alongside fellow signing Giorgio Chiellini, represents a coup for a franchise founded only eight years ago. “We’re delighted that they’re joining, but it’s not something that surprises us, because we know the MLS - it’s getting better with every season,” Sánchez says. “We can’t wait for their arrival, so that we can enjoy playing with them and learn everything they have to teach us.” It was the LAFC coaching staff who told Sánchez about Bale’s possible arrival: “They said we had made him an offer and that he quite liked the idea of coming to Los Angeles. Adding players like Bale and Chiellini to the team, and tying Carlos Vela down to a new contract - it’s all fantastic news for the franchise. We’re really excited.”

Sánchez expects Bale to be “one of the lads” right away

Soccer isn’t the most popular sport in the US, but Bale’s switch to LAFC has dominated the sports press for days. “It’s right up there with any other big move in the NFL or the NBA,” Sánchez says. “If you turn on the TV, it’s either the top story or among the featured news. A few days have passed since the signing was confirmed, but they’re still talking about it: where he’s going to play and how he’s going to fit in with the locker room”, reveals the Barcelona youth product, who didn’t make his first-team debut at the Camp Nou but did share several training sessions with stars such as Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta. Sánchez describes Bale as “one of the best players in the world” and is sure the 32-year-old will quickly be “one of the lads” at LAFC, a team that currently leads the way in the MLS Western Conference. “I’m no good at golf, but I’ll happily get myself out on the course if it helps him to settle in!” Sánchez quips. He defines LA as “a city that has it all: the weather’s good, you’re by the sea and the mountains, and there’s so much to do in your free time. It’s also culturally very diverse. People speak Spanish, English... And there’s a lot of traffic, although that’s not something I’d have used to sell the city to Bale!”

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“Bale can bring so much to this team”

In LA, Bale will play up front with Vela, one of the most highly rated players in MLS. “There’s talk about whether Bale’s going to play on the right with Carlos in the middle, or whether Carlos will play on the right and Bale as a striker... But they’re such quality players that there’s no need for debate; they’ll go out there and move about freely,” Sánchez says. “There isn’t much else to talk about.” The 31-year-old is eager to find out what Bale can achieve in MLS: “We’ll welcome him without any preconceptions and with real enthusiasm, because he can bring so much to this team. Running into space, holding the ball up, playing it short, switching the play, set pieces... As I say, we’re talking about one of the best players in the world. There can be no doubt about that. I hope the rest of us can help him to hit top form”. Founded in 2014, filling the vacancy left by Chivas USA, LAFC didn’t make their MLS debut until 2018. Since then, they’ve won a Supporters’ Shield - the award given to the team with the best regular-season record - but are yet to achieve their major objective: winning the MLS Cup.

Sánchez: a hugely successful LAFC signing

Everyone’s talking about Bale’s arrival at LAFC, but the forward has his work cut out to be as successful a signing as Sánchez. After five years at Sporting Kansas City, the Spaniard moved to California tasked with replacing Eduard Atuesta - and not only has he adapted smoothly to the role given to him by LAFC’s head coach, Steven Cherundolo, he has become one of the best midfielders in MLS. Operating in centre midfield, Sánchez has an 87% passing accuracy rate, wins 60% of his defensive duels and recovers more than 10 balls per game. “I knew what I could offer and that’s why they signed me,” he says. “I try to bring balance and composure, and it’s very easy when you’re surrounded by such good players.” He says the most important thing this year is to “win the Supporters’ Shield”, adding: “If you manage to come out on top, it’s then all about sticking to your guns in the playoffs and going all out for the MLS Cup. They’re played over a single leg and a weaker team can turn up, score two goals in 20 minutes and knock you out. But that’s the playoffs for you.” There’s still a long way to go, but Sánchez is on track to play in his fifth postseason. He has never won the MLS Cup, but this year LAFC look to be a different proposition. Time will tell if 2022 is etched in gold in the franchise’s history books.

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