LAFC will host Austin FC for the Western Conference final on Sunday at Banc of California, and defender Giorgio Chiellini is preparing accordingly.
The Italian made the shocking move to LAFC in June, amid the 2022 Major League Soccer campaign. After helping the team to first on the Western Conference table and the Supporters Shield, Chiellini now feels ready to take on his first MLS postseason tournament.
"I think it’s more like a Champions League game," he said following LAFC's Friday training session. "It’s just one leg, not two legs, but it’s almost the same. It has more importance than a domestic cup.
"Compared to a domestic cup, it’s a little different than our league because in our league, in Europe, there is a long season in which one game many times is not so important like here. It’s strange [this year] that in the West the first and second [seeds] and in the East the first and the third [made it to the Conference Finals]. Usually in the last years, not the best [teams] arrived to the end. But we hope we are a [No. 1 seed] to win this year, it could be a really good trophy for us."
Chiellini made his playoff debut in the team’s Western Conference semifinal victory over the LA Galaxy, winning 3-2 with a chaotic 93rd minute goal by Chicho Arango. Steve Cherundolo’s side came out hot against their El Trafico rivals, wreaking havoc throughout the field. But the defender insists LAFC must head into Sunday’s game with a new, 'calm mentality.
"We have to maintain the calm and the balance in every moment of the game. We have to suffer together, we have to try to play like our second half against the Galaxy. I think we were a little bit nervous in the first half and we didn’t play as well as we do usually. And then also we have to try to stop the skill of the other team, because Austin play very well,” he said.
"It will be different than the last match we played in Austin, but we have to work also to their skills and try to limit as much as possible their forwards."
Should LAFC manage another victory, they would host the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Philadelphia Union and New York City FC.