MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
Steve Cherundolo expecting an unlikely hero for LAFC
The MLS Cup holders are preparing for a Western Conference final against Houston Dynamo, who beat them twice in the regular season.
This LAFC team know what it takes to win MLS Cup, but Saturday’s Eastern Conference final pits them against the side that did the double over them in the regular season.
Houston Dynamo beat the reigning MLS Cup champions 4-0 in Texas before securing an impressive 1-0 road victory in Los Angeles. Houston are a team in red-hot form and with real confidence that they can complete the Leagues Cup-MLS Cup double this season.
Ahead of the game LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo told reporters that he is confident that his team can improve on their regular season performances against Houston.
“It’s important that we are fresh and we play with intensity. That was missing in both of our [regular season] matches but that will not be missing this weekend.”
There is little to choose between the two teams ahead of kick-off and the game could well be decided by a moment of magic from any one of the attacking stars on show.
Cherundolo said: “As we saw in Seattle, and you see a lot in these playoff games, players decide these games by making big plays. And that’s exactly how it should be.”
Cherundolo: ‘Bouanga not concerned with records’
The game in Seattle was won with a sensational solo goal from Denis Bouanga, the 2023 MLS Golden Boot winner. The 29-year-old has been unplayable this season and has now recorded 37 goals in all competitions.
The MLS single season record is currently held by Bouanga’s LAFC teammate Carlos Vela, who struck 38 in 2019. Just one more goal would see Bouanga level the record, but Cherundolo insisted that the Gabonese forward is focused on the team.
“We are not concerned who scores the goals and neither is Denis,” he said. “I think his goals have been a huge contribution to the group, but there’s been some other indirect contributions that he has. He attracts opposition players and that can open up space.”
Unlikely hero could be on the cards
Such is the form of Denis Bouanga, stopping him will undoubtedly be a major focus for Houston on Saturday. He will likely be up against Houston right-back Griffin Dorsey, who is among the fastest defensive players in the league but lacks top level experience.
Ahead of kick-off much of the focus will be on Bouanga and Houston Dynamo captain Hector Herrera, who has contributed an incredible 19 assists this season. But Cherundolo is weary of focusing too much on the big-name stars.
“What we learned from last year is that you don’t know who is going to impact the match, and when. It’s very important that everyone is engaged,” he explained.
“I don’t know who’s going to be the hero. It’s so important that we’re all engaged and we all know our roles so that we’re ready when we are called upon.”