For their first four seasons in Major League Soccer, LAFC went mostly as their star playmakers went. In the fifth -- and first under manager Steve Cherundolo -- the better predictor of success has been the impact their substitutes make.
On Sunday night, Ryan Hollingshead and Jose Cifuentes scored the seventh and eighth goals by an LAFC sub this season to help the hosts rally to a 2-0 victory over Minnesota United FC on Sunday night at Banc of California Stadium.
Those goals put LAFC back atop the Western Conference. And while it’s unlikely subs will keep scoring nearly 40% of LAFC’s overall tally, Cherundolo insists they will exert a major influence on his their success all season. That was the vision during an offseason that included the addition of more MLS veterans and fewer international prospects than in previous years.
“As you saw and you’ve seen this season, a lot of games have been won in the second half,” Cherundolo said. “And I think that is maybe a little bit of a secret to our success is being able to put on fresh legs with enough quality to change the dynamic of a game.”
That’s not always the easiest sell to players who want to start as many matches as possible.
And Cherundolo credits his squad for buying into a philosophy where 18 players have already made at least three appearances at the expense of a rigidly established first team.
“I’ve been extremely pleased with the players to also grasp that concept of, if I don’t start I can still be the star for the day, and I can still help the organization and the team win. You see it in the locker room, you see it in the training field. Of course there’s disappointed faces when they don’t start. But the effort when guys come on has been nothing but fantastic.”
Perhaps that trust stems from Cherundolo’s insistence that previous manager Bob Bradley’s imprint on LAFC remain on the team.
And Cherundolo rejects the idea that his approach leading to seven wins in nine games is been all that different from his predecessor’s.
“It’s not a new system,” Cherundolo said. “LAFC has played wonderful football in the past. And that was something we wanted to continue. And holding on to LAFC’s DNA that Bob and his staff have from Day 1 created was very important to me.”
Assistant Ante Razov provides continuity between Bradley’s tenure and his own. Cherundolo -- as he sees it -- provides a bit more defensive expertise from his time as a US men's national team and Bundesliga defender.
“I felt there were some areas where we needed to improve. And it is in transition and it is the work the back four does together, the coordinated back four work, something that I’d like to think I know a little something about. And that’s something we’ve been working on.
“And I think creating a more balanced team on the field is something we’ve been focused on since Day 1 and we’ve worked very hard at it. And I think you’re seeing the results of that. And that’s maybe the secret behind this early success in the season.”