But with four games left, starting with a Tuesday night trip to Minnesota United FC (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), the Black & Gold have lost four of their last five contests and sit second in the Supporters’ Shield race. They’re three points back of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union, who have played one more game.
And that evolving outlook hammers home a harsh reality for LAFC, Calen Carr said on Extratime.
“If they don't win the Supporters' Shield, to me, this is a pretty big collapse,” Carr said. “Losing four of your last five. I was actually more in the camp before to say, 'Well, the Supporters' Shield – they've won the Supporters' Shield before in the past, so this is really about [MLS] Cup.' But I think for LAFC as a club, they care a lot about the Supporters' Shield and I think this was something that they should have locked up.”
Head coach Steve Cherundolo’s team could still pull ahead, benefitting from wins being the first tiebreaker in the Shield race. But LAFC’s maximum points haul is now 72, which would equal the then-record total their 2019 Shield-winning side brought home.
This dip in form, Extratime’s Matt Doyle argued, can – at least partially – be attributed to LAFC’s busy Secondary Transfer Window.
They stole plenty of headlines by signing big-name players with boatloads of experience in Europe’s top leagues, starting with the June 13 addition of center back Giorgio Chiellini and carrying through the Aug. 26 signing of forward Cristian Tello. Yet that came in contrast to the wintertime roster-building strategy of acquiring MLS-proven players through various mechanisms.
“Every team goes through a little malaise,” Doyle said. “I thought that LAFC were going to be somewhat immune to that because they did such a good job of acquiring veteran talent this past winter, guys like [Ryan] Hollingshead, Ilie [Sanchez], Kellyn Acosta, Maxime Crepeau – guys who have been there before and they know what it takes to get through a whole season. But I think the character of the team changed when they made those moves this summer.”
Doyle contended just about any MLS team would jump at the chance to sign the 33-year-old and their other stars, though lineup and tactics-centric questions have arisen. For one, how does Bale fit alongside captain Carlos Vela? And what to do with Kwadwo Opoku and Cristian Arango, two of their most productive forwards? Or how about Denis Bouanga, signed as a Designated Player after shining in Ligue 1, and Tello?
“This is more than just a game of talent, right?,” Doyle said. “It's a game of cohesion and it's the ultimate game of cohesion and chemistry and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. All that stuff we talked about with Philly, I think LAFC kind of lost that with this summer window.”
LAFC, who are still on track to finish first in the Western Conference and punch a 2023 Concacaf Champions League ticket, have time to course-correct. And they could feasibly bring home two pieces of silverware: the Shield by Oct. 9 (final day of the regular season) and Nov. 5 (MLS Cup 2022).
Getting there, Carr said, requires sorting out their ideal lineup.
“For LAFC, they have to dig into what is their Best XI now and settle on that and really push towards the Supporters' Shield,” Carr said. “That's their best path towards trying to, one, get that trophy but I think it's almost like these two are becoming more tied to each other than at first I thought they once were.”
For more from Extratime, check out their latest episode here.