LAFC bring "respect" at Alajuelense and get their CCL reward


When LAFC’s starting lineup was posted across social media channels Thursday evening, the reigning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners pulled no punches.

Head coach Steve Cherundolo, for their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 first-leg match at Costa Rican leaders Alajuelense, went with a full-strength group. There would be no reserve-heavy or second-choice team seeking a result.

That decision paid off, as the Black & Gold secured a 3-0 win that was powered by Dénis Bouanga’s second-half hat trick. Now, they’re firmly in the driver’s seat for next Wednesday’s home leg at BMO Stadium (10:30 pm ET | FS2, TUDN).

“We believe if we play in the same manner and treat the game with the same respect, then we can win again,” Cherundolo said postgame. “I do not have a crystal ball to tell you what score, but we like our chances now of moving on to the next round.”

Respect was the operative word in Cherundolo’s remarks, his starting XI reflecting how seriously LAFC plan on treating CCL and every competition they enter in 2023. They painstakingly lost the 2020 CCL final to Liga MX side Tigres UANL, and have every intention of being the continental champion who raises silverware in early June.

LAFC are among this year’s CCL favorites, possibly making it back-to-back MLS champions after Seattle Sounders FC’s historic conquest in 2022. Much has to unfold before then, but it’s clear that the Black & Gold have the quality and depth to contend.

Following that path, first and foremost, means finishing the job against Alajuelense and not looking past any opponent that comes LAFC’s way.

“The danger was always there to try to rotate too much and you think you are already ahead or one round further,” Cherundolo said. “That will not happen to us. As you mentioned correctly, we are at the beginning of our season and our starters still need valuable minutes and fitness. So we will field a similar team [next week]. It may not be the exact same team, but it will definitely be similar.”

As Cherundolo noted, LAFC only have one regular-season game completed after their much-anticipated El Trafico opener (Rose Bowl edition) against rivals LA Galaxy was postponed to July 4 due to inclement weather. They’ll also host the New England Revolution on Sunday evening (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) to close out Matchday 3, but otherwise are still shaking some preseason cobwebs.

LAFC, integrating offseason signings and looking to avoid a championship slump, now will look to put Alajuelense to the sword next week. Another raucous atmosphere, like they experienced at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, is expected when Champions League nights return to Los Angeles.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for the football here in this country, especially with the national team,” Cherundolo said. “Watching Alajuelense play in the league and the ideas of the coach, I enjoyed preparing for this game. I think it’s a very good team, a well-coached team. I think our tempo is a bit faster and our intensity, which enabled us to win the game.”