LAFC treats U.S. Open Cup like a top prize as it reaches semifinals

Los Angeles FC forward Kei Kamara celebrates his goal against Austin FC during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Last season the U.S. Open Cup was little more than an afterthought for LAFC, when the club thought about the tournament at all.

The team’s run to the final of last spring’s CONCACAF Champions League, combined with the start of the MLS schedule, meant LAFC played a game every four days through the first three months of the season. By the end of the year, the team had played an MLS-record 53 games in four countries and two continents, traveling far enough to circumnavigate the globe 2½ times.

There was simply no room for the U.S. Open Cup. But that’s not the case this season; with Wednesday’s 3-1 win over New Mexico United sending LAFC on to next month’s semifinals of a tournament, it’s suddenly being taken very seriously.

“I wouldn’t say that we prioritize certain competitions. It’s really just kind of when do you need to rest, guys? When can you rotate?” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “Last season it just wasn’t physically possible to push the guys for another game.

“That’s different 1720711145.”

Read more: LAFC advances in U.S. Open Cup with win over New Mexico United

Is it ever. Last season Cherundolo used teenagers from the club’s MLS Next Pro team in LAFC’s two-game Open Cup run. On Wednesday, he started four current or former MLS all-stars, including Denis Bouanga, the league’s reigning Golden Boot winner; Kei Kamara, the second-leading scorer in league history; and Hugo Lloris, who has started more World Cup games — including the last two finals — than any goalkeeper in history.

The goals came from Timothy Tillman, David Martínez and Mateusz Bogusz, extending LAFC’s unbeaten streak in all competition to 13 games and sending it on to next month’s tournament semifinals against the Seattle Sounders.

It was an effort that was more blue collar than blue ribbon.

“Our objective was to advance and we did that,” Cherundolo said. “I think we jumped just as high as we needed to. Tonight, we just cleared the bar, which is OK.

“We checked all the boxes, so I’m happy with that. And that we advanced. But certainly we can play better.”

This will mark LAFC’s second trip to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals; the first came in 2018, the team’s inaugural season, when it lost on penalties to eventual champion Houston.

Read more: LAFC faces the Dynamo with a spot in the U.S. Open…

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