With regards to the MLS playoffs, Ilie Sánchez says, it’s the thoughts that issues most.
“The strongest team is the one that is going to advance,” the LAFC midfielder believes. “And that’s not physically, tactically, technically. That’s mainly mentally.”
Sánchez is talking from expertise. Twice he performed for Sporting Kansas Metropolis groups that completed the MLS common season atop the convention standings, solely to flame out within the playoffs. Twice his workforce got here inside a objective of an MLS Cup closing.
“And I never got it,” he mentioned, his teammates succumbing to a psychological bobble right here, a momentary lack of focus there.
He’ll give it one other attempt Sunday when LAFC performs host to Austin FC within the Western Convention closing at Banc of California Stadium. However what he received’t do is consider the previous.
“You cannot have that in your mind,” he mentioned after coaching Friday at Cal State L.A. “We cannot allow ourselves to get trapped on memories or feelings or emotions.”
LAFC has its personal historical past of playoff disappointments. Because it entered the league 5 years in the past, no workforce has received extra video games, earned extra factors or scored extra targets within the common season. But it surely’s received simply twice in 5 video games within the playoffs.
In 2019, simply because it has executed this season, LAFC received an MLS-best 21 video games and beat the Galaxy in its playoff opener. That workforce misplaced within the convention closing.
For first-year LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo, all that historical past is simply that, historical past.
“There are zero connections between 2019 and now,” he mentioned. “A different group of players. We haven’t spoken once about the game. We haven’t shown any video. It has nothing to do with this week.”
LAFC captain Carlos Vela, one in all simply three holdovers from that 2019 workforce, mentioned even this yr’s common season has nothing to do with this week. And that is perhaps a great factor as a result of whereas LAFC (22-9-4 together with the playoff win) completed with the league’s finest report, Austin was the one workforce to beat it twice in MLS play and was one in all simply two groups to win at Banc of California Stadium.
“It’s a new tournament. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past. It doesn’t matter how good you did in the league or how bad you did against some teams,” he mentioned. “This is a special game. You have to win, it doesn’t matter how.”
Behind MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi, who was second in MLS with 22 targets within the common season, Austin was the second-highest-scoring workforce within the west with 65 targets. LAFC was first with 66, 16 coming from Cristian Arango. However with Sánchez, an offseason free-agent signing, anchoring a well-organized midfield, solely two groups within the league allowed fewer targets than LAFC’s 38, one off the franchise report.
Nonetheless, historical past shouldn’t be on LAFC’s aspect. Since MLS switched to a two-leg postseason format to single-elimination video games in 2019, no workforce that completed atop the regular-season standings has received a convention title within the playoffs.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini, who’s ending his first yr with LAFC after taking part in 17 seasons with Juventus in Italy’s Serie A, likened the playoff format to the UEFA Champions League, which has a two-leg format via the semifinals however a winner-take-all closing — a sport he misplaced twice.
That’s as a result of the 2 duties — regular-season dominance and postseason success — require completely different approaches. The common season is a marathon, a race that requires persistence, planning, goal and a deep roster. Playoff video games are a 90-minute dash, a bare-knuckle brawl wherein an excellent particular person efficiency, a nasty name or a fortunate objective can raise a poor workforce over a fantastic one.
“You need to approach every game like there is no other for the season,” mentioned Sánchez, 31, who made 33 regular-season appearances and had 30 begins for the primary time in 4 years. “There is no other for the season if we lose.”
And whereas Sánchez says he doesn’t like trying again, there’s one little bit of historical past he and LAFC can take consolation in. Over the past three seasons in Kansas Metropolis and Los Angeles, his groups have misplaced simply 16 of the 77 video games he’s began. LAFC was 0-4 within the 4 video games he didn’t begin this season.
Sánchez says he beginning Sunday.
“This game has maximum importance,” he mentioned in Spanish. “Now there is no margin for error. If you have a bad game, you don’t get another. If you have 45 bad minutes, the opponent will take advantage and we’re out.”
Sánchez goes to attempt to put that out of his thoughts, which at the moment of yr is what issues most.