LAFC's Giorgio Chiellini: MLS playoffs feel like a "Champions League game"

Chiellini LAFC

LOS ANGELES – When Giorgio Chiellini first signed with LAFC back in June, he envisioned playing in games like these.

The legendary Italian defender is in the midst of his first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and LAFC are one match away from their first-ever MLS Cup appearance when hosting Austin FC at Banc of California Stadium Sunday in the Western Conference Final (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN3).

Chiellini, a veteran of 74 UEFA Champions League games and two runner-up appearances with Juventus (2015, 2017), feels MLS postseason play compares favorably to those European nights.

"I think it’s more like a Champions League game," Chiellini told reporters 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 LAFC's Western Conference Semifinal victory over El Trafico rivals LA Galaxy, coming off the bench to see out the result following Chicho Arango's 93rd-minute game-winning goal. He could draw the start next to Jesús David Murillo against Austin on Sunday, with regular starter Eddie Segura questionable to suit up due to an unspecified injury.

Given his extensive big-game experience, the 38-year-old would seem an ideal contingency plan, coming off a debut MLS campaign that saw him play 715 minutes across 11 games (nine starts).

The key on Sunday, Chiellini said, will be maintaining more consistent control of the game than they did against the Galaxy, which saw the visitors score two separate equalizers before Arango's goal sent LAFC through.

"We have to maintain the calm and the balance in every moment of the game," Chiellini said of the Supporters' Shield winners. "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.

"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."