Decision Day

El Trafico next? LAFC play waiting game after Supporters' Shield celebration

Bale LAFC Supporters' Shield

Were it not for an astounding 14-save performance from Nashville SC goalkeeper Joe Willis, which included stopping Cristian Arango’s penalty kick in first-half stoppage time, LAFC’s Supporters’ Shield party would have had a different vibe Sunday at Banc of California Stadium.

But the Black & Gold instead settled for a 1-0 loss on Decision Day to complete their remarkable 2022 regular season, which involved capturing silverware two weekends ago in a 2-1 win at the Portland Timbers. LAFC’s 21 victories (21W-9L-4D record) ultimately tied the club’s single-season wins record, equalling the 2019 mark that helped bring home their first Shield.

Now, it’s all eyes on the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs and whether a date with the LA Galaxy or Nashville arrives from that Round One clash some dozen miles south on Saturday (3 pm ET | UniMás, TUDN, & App).

Asked about the would-you-rather game their No. 1 seed prompts with a bye into an Oct. 20 Western Conference Semifinal, LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead acknowledged the El Trafico potential that’s brewing after next weekend’s clash at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“At this point we are so confident in who we are as a team, especially at the Banc at home, that we’re ready to see anybody and face anybody,” said Hollingshead. “We think that we are the team to beat in this league. We think the Shield shows it, but we got to now go prove it.

“There’s not a better storyline than taking the Cup after beating the Galaxy here at home, so if that’s who wins the matchup we’re going to be ready for them.”

LAFC and LA have met once before in the playoffs, with Carlos Vela’s first-half brace powering a 5-3 victory in the last cross-city battle of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s MLS tenure – all during Vela’s record-breaking 2019 MVP season. Should there be a 2022 edition of El Trafico in the playoffs, that marquee bout would shift to Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, longtime Mexican national teammates who played together at several World Cups.

But LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo isn’t hedging any bets on who his team will get as the playoff bracket unfolds. They split the season series against both LA and Nashville, the latter of whom sport the 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner in Hany Mukhtar.

“It’s great, it’s an awesome matchup,” Cherundolo said of El Trafico. “It should be an exciting evening. It’s always tough against [LA], it’s always tough against Nashville. It’s a game that would be decided by very few actions and those actions tonight didn’t go our way. I’m hopeful that we’re saving them for the second round of the playoffs.”

Whatever awaits, LAFC’s focus now shifts to capturing a second trophy this year. Their talent-rich roster that’s chock-full of big names like Vela, Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini was constructed for this very reason.

“One objective is now down in the books, winning the Supporters Shield,” said Hollingshead. “We came in the season with three trophies on our minds, and we fell out of the Open Cup race a little bit early, we're able to take home the Shield, and now we've got one more ahead of us in the Cup.”

Central midfielder Ilie Sanchez noted how hard it is to complete the Shield-Cup double, a feat last pulled off in 2017 by Toronto FC. It’s only been done seven times in the league’s past 26 seasons.

“For me it is about fighting against history,” said the former Sporting Kansas City standout. “Only five clubs have achieved both trophies within the same season as Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. That tells you how difficult it is in this [league] to become champion.”