Why Italy legend Giorgio Chiellini is a "playoff signing" for LAFC

Giorgio Chiellini is a decorated Juventus legend and just signed a Targeted Allocation Money deal with LAFC through 2023.

But does the Black & Gold acquiring the 37-year-old center back make sense?

When you consider a driving reason for signing Chiellini – pursuing success in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – Extratime’s Matt Doyle said the answer is a resounding yes.

“It's a playoff signing. Everybody is focused on the wrong thing here. Where has LAFC consistently failed? The toughest stages of knockout tournaments,” Doyle said on Extratime's latest episode. “They've been the best regular-season team in the league since 2018 and that's great – they're going to keep being really, really good in the regular season. In the playoffs, though, they have not had the right kind of veteran savvy in the middle of that backline and so they've gotten gashed, whether it's been Tigres in the [Concacaf Champions League] Final or the Sounders seemingly every year in the playoffs.”

LAFC have made improvements in the defensive third a priority for 2022, trading for goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (from Vancouver) and left back Ryan Hollingshead (from Dallas), as well as signing defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez as a free agent after his Sporting KC days. Versatile midfielder Kellyn Acosta was added via a trade with Colorado, too.

And now they add Chiellini, who won nine consecutive Serie A titles from 2011-2020 and was named a three-time Serie A Defender of the Year across a sterling 17-year Juventus career.

He’s also been capped 117 times for Italy, helping lead the Azzurri to the 2020 European Championship where he was recognized as the Defender of the Tournament. He’s played in the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups.

Doyle believes LAFC, the current Supporters’ Shield leaders, will be selective with Chiellini during the regular season to keep him fresh for the postseason. Having depth at center back allows for that, it should be stressed.

“I think that signing Chiellini is not about those dog days of August, certainly not about making cross-country flights for an Eastern Conference on a random Wednesday,” Doyle said. “They're going to use him selectively with an eye towards having him available for the playoff push and then for the playoffs themselves. And then in the playoffs, I think they're going to end up playing more of a lower block and that's where Chiellini's Chiellini, man. He's dominant in the air, he's a very good passer and he's one of the best organizers we've seen in the backline over the past quarter-century. There aren't more than a handful of guys who you would take over him."

Calen Carr was among those scratching their head about the signing when reports first surfaced, joking Chiellini’s profile rather fits someone the LA Galaxy, their El Trafico rival, would historically sign. But Carr said it makes more sense the more he thinks about it.

“The other funny part of it is when you look at LAFC's move over the last six to eight months, they've gone out and gotten a bunch of guys and I think been intentional about guys who had won trophies in MLS before, had experience playing internationally,” Chiellini said. “ … Now, this guy [Chiellini] checks a couple more of those boxes as far as Champions League and all that good stuff, so I think it makes sense. It’s for this reason, to try and get over that hump.”

Chiellini’s other major impact can be as a mentor to younger LAFC players, like 19-year-old center back Mamadou Fall. The Senegalese defender is perceived as one of MLS’s top defenders, and he often features alongside Jesus David Murillo, a 2021 MLS All-Star.

“We have an incredible mix of young, talented players and having Giorgio come in and be an example on and off the field will help out every single player in our organization,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said.

And when you consider Chiellini’s résumé, Cherundolo said it's a no-brainer of a signing.

“Giorgio is one of the most successful and experienced center backs of his generation,” Cherundolo said. “What he has shown us for club and country over the years has been nothing less than incredible, and for him to bring that to us here at LAFC will be extremely valuable for the players playing next to him.”

For more MLS analysis, check out the entire Extratime episode here.