LAFC 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
Can LAFC move on from Bob Bradley? | Image: Matthew Burt.
Can LAFC move on from Bob Bradley? | Image: Matthew Burt. /

After a strong first few years in MLS, LAFC were brought down to earth with a bump in 2021.

Their record-setting Supporters Shield win of 2019 and run to the 2020 Concacaf Champions League final turned many heads. But last season, they failed to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time and much of that great side has departed - including head coach Bob Bradley.

How will the Black and Gold adjust to life under Steve Cherundolo?

Here's everything you need to know about LAFC ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did LAFC perform in 2021?

As mentioned, LAFC discovered the feeling of finishing below the Playoff line for the first time in their history and it was not nice.

Of course, it was always going to be tough with 2020 Golden Boot-winner Diego Rossi leaving for Fenerbahce and 2019 Golden Boot-winner Carlos Vela suffering greatly with injuries. And to their credit, the Black and Gold still managed to keep their goalscoring output quite high.

But Bradley just couldn't find a defensive formula and the true damage was done during a seven-game streak between July and August where LAFC took just four points and failed to win.

Still in with a tiny sniff of Playoff qualification, LAFC were destroyed 5-2 by the Colorado Rapids on Decision Day, just about summing up their 2021 campaign.

LAFC transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Kellyn Acosta (from Colorado Rapids, $1.1m)
  • Maxime Crepeau (from Vancouver Whitecaps, $1m)
  • Franco Escobar (from Atlanta United, $600k)
  • Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (from Charlotte FC, $400k)
  • Ilie Sanchez (from Sporting KC, free transfer)
  • Doneil Henry (from Suwon Bluewings, free transfer)
  • John McCarthy (from Inter Miami, free transfer)
  • Ryan Hollingshead (from FC Dallas, trade)

Transfers out

  • Eduard Atuesta (to Palmeiras, $4m)*
  • Bryce Duke (to Inter Miami, $100k)
  • Pablo Sisniega (to Charlotte FC, $50k)
  • Jamal Blackman (to Huddersfield Town, free transfer)
  • Raheem Edwards (to LA Galaxy, free transfer)
  • Danny Crisostomo (to Las Vegas Lights, free transfer)
  • Alvaro Quezada (to Las Vegas Lights, free transfer)
  • Tristan Blackmon (Expansion Draft)
  • Marco Farfan (to FC Dallas, trade)
  • Jordan Harvey (released)

*LAFC could receive another $3m in performance-based bonuses.

Steve Cherundolo: Tactics and style of play

The closest thing Steve Cherundolo has had to a senior head coach position so far was a year at LAFC's USL affiliate club, Las Vegas Lights, before taking up his current role.

From that, we can be sure he'll play an attacking and possession-heavy 4-3-3 style similar to that Bradley preferred at Banc of California Stadium. It's a system and style ingrained within LAFC already and a natural fit for many of their players.

Whether or not Cherundolo can make the jump to working with top-flight players remains to be seen. Without experience, we just have to let him get to work. But at the very least, the basic principles and philosophy at LAFC will remain the same.

LAFC predicted XI (4-3-3): Crepeau; Kim, Segura, Murillo, Hollingshead; Acosta, Blessing, Cifuentes; Vela, Arango, Rodriguez.

Who are LAFC's key players?

Carlos Vela

Carlos Vela only managed 20 appearances last season, yet still registered 10 direct goal involvements (5g/5a). To say he's 'finished' is completely wide of the mark.

Of course, this is a big 'if', but if he can stay fit and healthy, Vela still has the natural talent to tear MLS apart and strike fear into the heart of every single defender within the league.

Remember his record-setting 34 goals in 31 regular-season appearances in 2019? Remember his five goals in five games to fire LAFC to the CCL final in 2020? That could all still return in 2022.

Cristian Arango

Vela will be that much more at ease knowing that Cristian Arango can help him shoulder LAFC's goalscoring burden. The Colombian striker only joined from Millonarios in August but hit the ground flat-out sprinting with 14 goals in 17 games to earn the MLS Newcomer of the Year award.

Arango is much more of a natural striker than most of the forwards LAFC have used in the past, but his ability to hold up the ball and bring the likes of Vela and Brian Rodriguez into play shouldn't be underestimated.

Already taken to the hearts of LAFC fans, Arango could be a major Golden Boot contender this year.

Kellyn Acosta

The departure of Eduard Atuesta was always going to come eventually, but it didn't hurt any less. The 24-year-old Colombian was among the very best midfielders in MLS and will leave a huge gap in the center for LAFC.

Luckily, the Black and Gold have been able to find a pretty good replacement in Kellyn Acosta. With 48USMNT caps and nearly 200 MLS regular-season appearances under his belt to date, Acosta brings immense experience, as well as quality on the ball, defensive coverage, and a good amount of versatility.

The player himself clearly wanted to move to Europe this off-season, but will give his best to LAFC nonetheless.

LAFC 2022 season prediction

There is a lot of guesswork going into LAFC's 2022 campaign given Cherundolo's lack of coaching experience at this level, but on the pitch they've conducted some good business.

Acosta is a strong replacement for Atuesta, Maime Crepeau sorts out their long-standing issue in goal, and the likes of Franco Escobar, Ilie Sanchez, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi bring great MLS experience and genuine quality.

It may be slow starting, and much will depend on Vela returning to his best form and fitness. But LAFC should surge into the Playoffs late on with some pretty exciting soccer for good measure.

Prediction: 5th in the Western Conference