Exactly halfway through the season, LAFC is far and away the best team in the league. And LAFC is only going to get better with Giorgio Chiellini and Gareth Bale set to join the club soon. During Wednesday night’s romp over FC Dallas, fans were treated to their first glimpses of Chiellini at LAFC, and coach Steve Cherundolo gushed over the Italian’s desire to improve the team.
With 36 points from 17 matches and a plus-17 goal difference, LAFC is running away with the Supporters’ Shield, seven points ahead of the next-best clubs. The best offense in the league will only improve when Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, joins Carlos Vela and Co.
What will really make LAFC a terrifying prospect for opponents is the addition of European champion Giorgio Chiellini. The 37-year-old veteran of 117 Azzurri caps and nine Serie A titles will bolster a defense that's already the third best in the league.
Chiellini is expected to make his LAFC debut in El Tráfico against crosstown rival LA Galaxy on July 8. On Wednesday night, Chiellini made his debut appearance at Banc of California Stadium as a member of the Black & Gold, appearing at a press conference before attending his new club’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas despite a golazo from Jesús Ferreira.
After the match, still wearing a suit that no doubt costs more than my rent, Chiellini took to the pitch to join his new teammates in celebrating the victory. Kellyn Acosta walked Chiellini through the steps of leading his first LAFC chant, though the Italian didn’t quite know the words yet.
Aside from getting his lovely suit soaked, Chiellini gave LAFC fans reasons to start dreaming of their first MLS Cup. He’s not just here to pick up a paycheck; he’s buying into the culture and the team.
Want more proof?
Just before Chiellini took the megaphone to bumble some chants, LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo spoke with the FS1 studio crew (Rob Stone, Stu Holden and Maurice Edu) about the match and, more importantly, Chiellini.
Cherundolo, a World Cup veteran himself (he played the full 90 in the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with eventual champion Italy in 2006), praised Chiellini’s desire to help the team.
“I’ve been blown away by him,” said Cherundolo, who was appointed coach in January. “He’s been sending me texts about the games we’ve played, what we can do differently, wanting to understand more of how we play.
“He says to me: ‘Steve, I’m already thinking like an LAFC player, I can’t wait to get there and contribute.’ It’s incredible. He was in the locker room before the game and after the game and on the field. He’s already a part of the team and I can’t wait to see him on the field.”
At 37, Chiellini would be forgiven if he wanted to just play out his final days in a so-called retirement league (a B.S. term that doesn’t really apply to current MLS). Instead, he’s already sending notes to the coach about how to improve and asking how he’ll fit into the squad.
That’s scary for the rest of MLS.
View this post on Instagram
While he might not be the biggest signing in MLS history, Chiellini is the type of player who can take any squad to the next level (so long as the opponent isn’t North Macedonia). He’s a commanding defender whose mere presence will make attackers think twice before taking him on. He’s a leader who can improve the players around him. He’s a proven winner who won’t accept anything less than an MLS Cup title, having won 20 trophies with Juventus.
Chiellini will eventually learn all of the LAFC chants, but for now he’s doing everything you want from a big-name signing. Along with Vela, Bale, Acosta and the rest of the squad, this could the best team in MLS history if Cherundolo can meld the personalities together and keep Bale off the golf course. Chiellini’s apparent desire to go all-in before even playing a match shows the team might just have the right leadership in place to do special things in MLS.
Now if we can just teach Chiellini the importance of putting ranch dressing on pizza.