LAFC answering early questions about their 2022 season in emphatic fashion

Some observers might have asked questions about LAFC's prospects heading into the 2022 season.

There's the matter of a roster makeover that brought in a number of newcomers and the exit of midfield linchpin Eduard Atuesta. There's the matter of first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo taking on what's looking to be an ultra-competitive Western Conference. And then, of course, there's the matter of not making the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last season to add to the registers of disappointment for a team with particularly lofty ambitions.

Four matches into 2022, they're answering those questions emphatically, with a 3-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday night that lifted them to the top of the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings.

For Cherundolo, being undefeated so far is pleasing but, as he indicated in his post-match press conference, he's not yet satisfied with the ceiling they've achieved to date. Even with what ended up being a fairly comfortable win, he expressed some concern about the early lead Vancouver grabbed, via Tristan Blackmon in the 12th minute, taking that as evidence that improvement is still needed.

"Something that I've got to know from this group is their ability to react to situations and come together and find a way to win, and they did that again tonight," he remarked. "It was a better performance than last week. We connected more passes, we created more chances, more high-quality chances. Our build-up was better than it was last week, which we spent a lot of time working on. But we can get much better. That's important and that's something that I shared with the guys after the game. We are satisfied with the reaction and the result, but we're not satisfied yet with our play throughout the course of the 90 minutes."

Carlos Vela showed what an important contributor he continues to be, racking up his fourth goal of the season to put him in the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead alongside FC Cincinnati's Brandon Vazquez and Columbus Crew's Lucas Zelarayan, and adding an assist on an equalizer that came at a crucial juncture in the match. While there's still the matter of his contract extension lingering – another one of those question marks hanging over LAFC's prospects – a healthy and happy Vela signing on for the second half of the season would be a decided difference-maker for an LAFC playoff run.

But Vela's not the only player in Black & Gold who can score, as evinced by Sunday night's performance. It's not every night that Ryan Hollingshead will bag you a brace from his left back position, but his ability to score adds another head to the hydra that LAFC can be for opposing defenses.

And most of the additions LAFC made in the offseason – including goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, defender Doneil Henry and midfielder Kellyn Acosta – were brought in to address the team's defensive needs, and to bring additional MLS experience to the fold. (Acosta started at right back Sunday night, perhaps not how he'd predicted his 200th MLS match might look, but showcasing the versatility that's helped him get to that mark.)

Cherundolo acknowledged that it's been a challenge to bring in a number of new players to the club, but also something essential to the project of meeting its expectations. He points to a five-day retreat in Palm Springs, embarked on just before the start of the season, as a key to helping the roster gel as well as it has so far.

"Our five days in Palm Springs in preseason were super important for this group and for us as a staff as well, which is something that I particularly would repeat in the future," he noted, "And this group needed it and wanted it and we gave them that. Their answers have been amazing. They have, as a group, found ways to win. We haven't always started off at 100 miles an hour, which I would prefer... but the reaction as a group has been good. I think our ideas in the offseason were to inject more leadership, more character and MLS experience. It was exactly what this group needed, and I think we're seeing that already in the first four weeks."

Hollingshead agreed, noting that the Palm Springs trip came just three days after his arrival at the club, and though he felt like he was the "new guy" stepping in following his trade from FC Dallas, there were quite a few different "new guys" looking to come together as a unit.

"It was fun being able to get everybody there, get them in Palm Springs, have time away from families, away from just the hustle and bustle of life and get everybody focused on football, and building team camaraderie," he recalled.

He lauded the club's involvement in making sure that camaraderie happened, noting: "They set up different team events, they were very strategic about how they did it. It wasn't just like, 'Well, let's hope the team bonds while we're here.' They had things set up for each day that we were there to facilitate that. So they don't just say that they want us to be a team on and off the field. They put those things in place and allow us to succeed that way. So it's fun to be a part of a club like that."