Co-President & GM John Thorrington Discusses LAFC’s Journey to MLS Cup | MLS Today

By | November 2, 2022

It's MLS Cup Week! First up, a deep dive into how LAFC got to this moment. David Gass chats with the man who was here from the start, John Thorrington, to look back at LAFC's journey. Join MLS Today every weekday at 11AM ET on Twitter Spaces and catch up on the latest episode anywhere you get your podcasts.

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All right well we're talking lafc and Who better to talk to than the person Who's been there since day one put this All together stands up on top of the Press Box on the roof uh walking around On TV quite often as well uh John Thorington himself John thanks for being With us thanks Dave pleasure to be here Uh I I assume they're gonna try and sell Seating up there for MLS Cup are you Going to be able to keep everyone off Your roof you know I kept it under wraps For so long and now the secret is fully Out which is unfortunate Um but uh for liability reasons there Will be no public or anybody other than Basically myself and a few analysts uh Allowed up top uh all right so let's Start with this what's your feeling Right now you win the Western Conference On what on Sunday what's sort of been The emotions for you over the last few Days yeah I one of excitement I think This is obviously our our first time in An MLS Cup Final it's not the first time In a final but uh first time in MLS Cup Final I think it it's not too dissimilar To the excitement of winning a supporter Shield but realizing there's still work To be done and trophies up for grabs and We won the Western Conference there is No shame in celebrating being on top of What I felt was a very strong conference This year and

Beating a very good Austin team having Previously beat a good Galaxy team and So there's much to be proud of but at The same time you reserve ultimate Celebration for what we hope is to come Saturday I want to look back before we Dig into Saturday because for you guys It was almost instant success in Major League Soccer but as I think about it Going into MLS Cup and as I started to Dig into it a lot of flux and a lot of Movement that got us to this point so I Want to start I believe it was the Manhattan Beach Marriott where we first Spoke about lasc in 2017 before you guys Were even in MLS and then obviously 2018 And Beyond talk to me about what you Thought the identity the roster build The style of this club would be and then Where we are now and how maybe that Shifted or is the same yeah I think we Set out before we had a coach before we Had any players we've already had an Academy before I had any staff frankly I Had a number of conversations with Owners with supporters with key decision Makers as to what we wanted this club to Be on and off the field I think by that Point there was already Some incredible momentum off the field Before we had signed anybody and Our job was sort of to match that on the Field and give sort of satisfy this Appetite that we had seen that frankly

Being from La I was surprised by that we Were getting 5 000 people to events Before we were celebrating a play Anything yeah and so it was a very Thorough and diligent process as to what On-field product would best represent Our city our supporters that they would Readily identify with and satisfy this App at this growing appetite for the Game in a downtown location all the all The ingredients that were already in Place and we did that it sounds very Abstract but we looked at the style of Play the makeup of the team and did our Best to represent that on the field and I think Of course things evolve but there has Not been any Revolution here at all we Are this is what we sought out to do to Have a team that plays the way we play That has the makeup of players that we Have our business model requires more Activity at certain levels of the roster And and what have you and it has been Through that filter that we've made Every decision from who our first coach Was to our second coach was to our to What we do with our Academy to who our Players are who how we spend our Discretionary money what players we go Around at the league and I think what You're seeing this year is certainly While we are strategically very Disciplined as to where the guard rails

Are we also apply lessons and we've had Four years of lessons and learning along The way that we then would be sort of Remiss not to apply and I think we've Done that this year and that's something That is an ongoing process frankly with Each transfer for window what are we Learning what did we learn by not Signing a DP in January that informed You know this is what this team needs Moving forward this is the player will Go out to in the summer all these sorts Of things that are a constant Evolution But never departing from the vision of How this team would represent our city One of the lessons I wanted to ask you About was the designated player spots Because Carlos fellas obviously been the Cornerstone of this franchise but Alongside him for the most part until Recently it was younger pieces in those Other DP spots Diego Rosie Brian Rodriguez Andre hortz at the beginning As well now you have Dennis bulonga Christian Teo and you know the Difference in potential contract with Him and Gareth Bale what it is was that A learning process of of feeling like You needed to lean on on more veteran Players in that spots or is that just Circumstantial I think there are pros And cons to both I think the what we saw With our Team in 2019 and the team that made a

Run to the Champions League final I Think it was a younger group and I would Say As you are building a roster I think a Younger group of talented players is A more volatile investment I think the Way I look at that is it's potentially Higher reward and higher ceiling on the Field if you hit it right with a player That you could sell for Millions into Europe it's higher reward but there's Higher risk to that so for us each Season each transfer window we assess Finding that right balance I think it Will always be a part of this club that We will invest in youth uh we'll start To see that with our Academy in fact I Just the reason we haven't is just Simply because our Academy kids are 17 Years old and not yet graduated uh We've Signed a few homegrowns but I think the Other thing that changed from year one To now is we are able with our u22 spots To also identify recruit young talent That would historically have been DPS Right so when you look at Palacio Sensei Fuentes those would have been DPS now Originally it was Diego it was Brian and We moved those both on uh when the right Deal came along and the right timing for Us but that's another thing that shifted Which then maybe opened up this Possibility the plan is always to have a Young designated player which is what we

Are looking for for next year now that We have the ability to create that Opening in January and so Dennis was This swing DP that we had Carlos and we Looked at young players and if the right Young player were there we'd assigned Him but for us Dennis which what you're Seeing now we identify provide a Specific player with a specific profile That we didn't find in the younger Players and ownership made the resources Available and and thanks to how we've Managed our budget within plan and and What have you we were able to sign Dennis so long-winded way of saying you Take the information you have to hand we Certainly have a model that we need to Stick to and it's always a portion of Our team will be about investing in Young players developing them helping us Win and moving them on and I think the Key difference relative to 2018 when you Had a 19 we had two young DPS is the Addition of the u22 initiative which Feels like you guys were one of the People that sort of pushed for the need Of that of you had add to us the type Players on the roster you push for Palacio SI Fuentes it felt like and you Can correct me if you think I'm wrong But it felt like for you you were able To whether it's because it's La attract Or ID a higher level of South American Talent that probably has eyes on moving

Through MLS to Europe which is now Everyone has the these three spots to Use it felt like lafc was kind of early In this starting in 2018. yeah it's not You know scouting and identifying it's Not just a switch you turn on and I Think we've always been built for that And initially as I mentioned it was for Our younger DPS and the out to West Isn't and Edward was a tan player when He came in now it would be slightly Different given the mechanisms uh Available to us with the u22 initiative But so for us we were structured to find That supply of talent we have incredible Scouts on the ground in South America we Have a great scouting Department data And analytics Department here in-house That helps us with our player Identification and Recruitment and then You know we're able I do think to show Players what the path looks like from Where you are to LA and whether that Means you stay here for a number of Years and help us win or move on we're All also open to that and I think we're Starting to see A more well-worn pathway as we've moved A few of our players on the movement to Me is the big thing that stands out so I Looked back lost in the first round to RSL in 2018 in the postseason Carlos Vela Latif blessing those are the only Two players from that roster still on

The team 2019 Western Conference Finals Eddie Segura also on that roster that's It talk to me a little bit just about The constant flow and movement do you See it the way I describe it as there's Been a lot of flux is it just the nature Of trying to be the club that you are How do you sort of perceive it Yeah I mean I haven't done a deep Analysis on this myself but I don't Think you'd see much more continuity From other teams I do think one specific Factor to lafc is when you're an Expansion team you are giving all of Those players in 2018 a new contract so Typically they're four-year contract so There is going to be a sort of a steeper Cliff for us than other teams or now That we're in steady state and we Recruited in 2019 and 20 20. so not all Of our players are coming up to the end Of their term at the same time so that Maybe played a factor in some of the in Terms of the amount of moves we had to Make but the other thing is what we Talked about is we purposefully found Identified plays that we knew would not Be here for 10 years and I think now we Have identified some players that really Fit our model and how we want to play And finding that balance of MLS Experience and Veteran European Experience and all of that and uh that Certainly wasn't by Design I think that

Was more the constraint of coming in at 18 having a certain number of players on Terms and then moving the players on Because they generated a good amount of Interest let's talk about this off Season first and then we'll get into This season Um it feels from the outside like one of The things you I did was MLS experience Maxime crippo Ryan Hollingshead sort of The list goes on and on in terms of the Additions you made is that how it was Seen internally and what was the process Of looking around the league and Figuring out where the pieces could come From yeah so we certainly I think when I Talk about the high risk High reward one Of the things I learned Like covet was sort of like the you know That quote from Buffett that it's a low Tide you see who's not wearing a bathing Suit I think covet exposed some things And vulnerabilities that are inherent With a really young group and so not Just MLS experience but just experience Overall and I and you know if you just Think about it logically for a person Like me covet affected me less than it Would have affected me if I was a 17 Year old that had just moved to Manchester England without my family and I can't socialize and they're no fans And you know all the rest of it and so I Think that just exposed a little bit

That maybe that balance was a little bit Off Um certainly I can't say it was way Wrong because we were we had an amazing Year in 2019 we were 20 minutes away From competing in a world Club Championship all the rest of it so I'm Certainly not trying to frame this as a Failure but just again as I say those Lessons that we apply along the way and So at the end of last season we knew There was a change in coach different From the first time we hired a coach we Knew the court of core group of players And we thought okay Steve what do we Think this team needs the existing Players and we had Steve and we felt he Really met sort of where they were and How we could take this team uh forward And then also what do you think we need And I think guys like Kellen like Ryan Like Max you know I credit guys like John McCarthy that is a a goalkeeper who Comes in every day he fits our culture He gets it he's happy to be here he's Competitive he pushes Max and we have That around the field we have that in Franco Escobar pushing Ryan Hollingshead And Elie coming in and you know it just Added a level of NX of MLS experience And know-how and then you add to that Carlos experience you add to that Keolini's experience Bales experience And we just really feel like that helped

Cultivate a really strong culture of Guys who knew no knew what it takes to Win and train every day and they are I Say I work for the players and the staff Here so I will say it that they are a Pleasure to work for uh let's talk about The coaching change Steve trundle Obviously Bob Bradley and yourself you Guys were lafc for a very long time Working obviously hand in hand and Bob With you created what is this club's Identity how do they play who you are What was it like going from that the First time looking for the coach and Then when you look back now at Steve Tyrandella what has worked in in sort of What was the process over this year yeah Well I think as you see with teams Around the world coaching changes are Hard and they're hard to manage through And I think acknowledging that Difficulty led us to a very thorough Process as to what we felt the right fit Was and I think what has helped Steve Hit the ground running is he was here For a year and I think he showed great Knowledge of our team of what he felt Changes could be made in order to help Us improve and I think what really Became apparent which not that I was Looking for confirmation of my analysis Was this wasn't broken were we really Pissed off that we didn't make the Playoffs last year yes would data tell

You that we should have and all the rest Of it yes did that matter no we weren't In the playoffs but does it matter in Terms of your analysis yes and I think What we said at the time and I'll say Now a Revolution was not needed and I Think Steve and our Scouts and our Technical staff really identified things That we could tweak rather than Transform and we did that and I think Steve's experience here in the building He knew lafc enabled them to hit the Ground running in a way that I think is Was really beneficial because I do first Time I've done it but I've just observed And speaking to colleagues change is Hard I think going back a year a little Bit less than a year uh when we did make That change I think it was Surprising to some people but what I Want to emphasize is it's not surprising To anybody who actually knows Steve Trundle those are the people that were Like of course I think people that don't Know Steve maybe thought we were going To go in a different direction but it Was very clear in the process that what You're seeing from our opening day Victory to now is exactly what Steve had Analyzed and said in the process Um as we went through the various Candidates uh it was a bumpy road though For a team that won supporter Shield I Think it's very clear that it was unique

In the amount of moves you made this Summer for a team that was already Leading uh this year you're talking About this season yeah yeah and the Moves you made and obviously moving on From DPS bringing in new DPS bringing in Big names there was that a spell where You were the clear leaders and you're on A points record and then all of a sudden The faces of the team are new faces and Gareth Bale and kiolini and other pieces Like that what was the summer like for You and what was the conversation around The club of was it needed do you look Back now and say well it was right or it Wasn't how how far out are you from that I think it was so internally I think is A very different perspective than Externally I do think if you analyze the Moves we made so I want to give utmost Credit to Danny musovski I want to give Utmost credit to Ismail to Jerry schradi I want to give utmost credit to Brian Rodriguez for everything they added to This group while they were here we Certainly had offers for more people That we thought were absolutely Fundamental to the success that we'd had To date and if I could have kept all Three of those guys I'd have loved to Right I care about them it's really hard That's the worst part of my job but in Order to add in our world you need to Make some decisions now how significant

It is the departure is typically tied to Who is coming in now we had to sell Brian Rodriguez to bring in Dennis as an Example we needed to create roster space On a number of those things did I think It was needed yes which is why I did it At the time and again you you go off the Information you have to hand I think the Position we are in now and our last two Games I think you're starting to see More as to why we did it um I don't Think it necessarily made sense and not I don't say it didn't make sense I Understand the question and what I Always say is that we're not naive to The impact you have when you change Things Steve is a very recent player as Was I but we did feel that to take this Group to the next level even with the Success we'd had as we came into the Summer we felt like for this team to not Only win supporter Shield but win MLS Cup we thought that these changes were Put us in a better position to do so and As I say you go off the information you Have to hand and I certainly am grateful For the efforts and the contribution of The players we had to move but I also am Really excited about what Giorgio brings What Gareth brings with Dennis brings What Sebastian brings what Christian Brings and I also unfortunately have to Acknowledge that the timing of our Calendar does not give a guy like

Christian Teo and these guys time to get Up to speed when we're in a playoff run And chase facing a supporter shield and And whatever if you in the future it Comes up obviously you mentioned the Calendar it's always going to be a Summer transfer window it's always going To be awkward for an MLS team do you Think you would make moves like big Names like Bale and Teo and killini Again yeah and frankly I don't think There is a GM in the league that would Have said no to the deals that we got With these guys when you have an Opportunity to sign these players and I Think Obviously the majority of why we sign Them is what they give us on a match day But the the intangibles these guys bring Are Priceless and I think what we had to Do To acquire them we didn't uproot our Team the team that played is still here The guys that were very you know I don't Want to I don't want to uh belittle Their contributions we're greatly Appreciated the guys that we did have to Move it was painful but we did feel at The time like it was necessary and I Think the other thing is that our season Is ending shorter so there would have Been more time in normal circumstances The summer was unique in that regard Um but I think as one example are we in

A better place to win MLS Cup because Dennis bawanga is here yes uh you Mentioned the other GMS and one of the Story lines this week unavoidably is Going to be ernsteanner obviously Running Philadelphia Union his comments In the summer about Gareth Bale and the Surprise that he would be available to You on a tam contract Um you've been asked about it slightly But now a little bit further out what do You make of sort of the perception Around the league about that move and And sort of what it what it shows to Other teams or or the way that they view It yeah so I do want to say I'm not Going to speak in depth I talked to Ernst about it in a personal Conversation between us I I heard his Apology and how things got taken out of Context which I understand uh the league Then dealt with it and has nothing to do With me how the league sees it what I Will say is is it surprising that we got Gareth Bale on a non-designated player Contract and Giorgio chiellini yeah but We did and right so there is no and I Think the any insinuation that it's Anything other than that I think is Disrespectful and I take issue with as Do our owners but look I understand the Question and the numbers for those who Have access to them they're all there And I understand the question but uh

Certainly take issue with any Insinuation that it is anything other Than what is factually true and one of The tropes in sports is always Whatever Gets you to try trophy will work if if This team does seal the deal whether It's Giorgio killini playing for 45 Minutes or Gareth Bale playing for a nun I think a lot of fans are going to look At it and say all of it worked all of it Uh made sense but you've brought up Dennis ballanga a couple times he's been The big Difference Maker when you look At the team that was on the field Against Austin it really is a group of Flares that was there before the summer Transfer window except keolini and Bulanga for balanga he's settling in He's scoring these big goals what is his Ceiling in Major League Soccer what will He be for lafc going forward hard for me To put a ceiling on it I think he has Shown he quickly got up to speed I think Our numbers show that exactly what we Saw when we recruited him and that was a Very la like up to the deadline last Minute signing for us which was not Necessarily fun but it's all worth it in The end Um no look Dennis and this and this is When we looked at the planning for this Season we had this DP spot available in January and when we had recruited and And got to our final list of players we

Decided to wait and I firmly believe That no decision is better than a bad Decision and so we waited with quite a Bit of pressure to make that decision at That point but what that afforded us is A few months to see this team gel like It did and then think okay what is the Profile player that's going to take us To the next level and name blind we gave The characteristics to our Scouts to our Analysts and Dennis clearly came to the Top of that list and what he provides For us which is different is what you See and the how he complements what we Already have Um in our team we felt like he adds a Dimension that we didn't necessarily Have despite our success again in the First half of the Season he added Something different that we felt was an Extra uh an extra level that we think is Required to beat teams like the Galaxy And Austin and hopefully Philadelphia in Do or Die playoff moments to clinch Supporter Shields and all that and Dennis is one but I I don't think it is Just him I give credit to everybody that Was here that has come Um you know Sebastian Mendes I'll Mention comes in for the last few Minutes to help us close the game and he Is he is a starter in our league who has Accepted a role that it what if he needs To be starting he'll do us do a great

Job if he's coming off the bench but These guys are here and they're Committed they're pulling in the same Direction and that's the direction of Lifting a trophy Saturday I may have Buried the lead here and talking about All these moves but the big question Mark this year was Carlos fella his Contract was up in the summer which uh We're starting to see it a little more Now but it was fairly unprecedented uh In MLS to have a player of that Magnitude potentially just be out of Contract in the middle of the Season Were there moments going through that Where you were unsure that he'd be back In what will it sort of feel like to you To see him lead the team out on Saturday For MLS Cup for the first time in lafc History it'll be what we signed him for When first time I talked to Carlos he's About winning and that was consistent in The negotiations that we just went Through it was about winning and I think Carlos sees that the pieces we've put Around him have put him in a great Position to lift the trophy another Trophy Saturday and negotiations are Never linear or sorry they are rarely Linear was I worried he would leave I Wouldn't put it in that regard I think Carlos and I have always level said on What's right for the club and what's Right for him and we have very open

Conversations up to that end and I never Felt there was a disconnect and Obviously negotiations can be high and Low but in general we were always Tracking towards an agreement uh you Said it you're an LA native you've Obviously been as I've said a couple Times part of this project since day one What would an MLS Cup victory mean for The sport in La for this club for this Fan base for yourself and your staff man It's uh it'd be everything you know I Think we we've been an ambitious Club From the get-go we did not provide any Excuses behind being an expansion Club a Young club we have gone after it from Day Zero and this is the prize in our League I definitely by the sound of Things I value the sports shield more Than maybe some others but I think in This building supporter Shield was Objective one chronologically and it Puts us in a great position home field Advantage throughout got pushed by Austin at certain points got pushed by Philly at certain points uh but we are Really proud of that first trophy we're Certainly now proud to be on top of the The Western Conference not just in the Table but having come through two Difficult playoff matches and man this Would just be Uh incredible for the club I as you say I've seen the Blood The Sweat The Tears

That have gone into actually building a Stadium building a team and yeah I would Just be it's almost paternal at this Point uh just would be so happy for this Club for its supporters having seen what We've all poured into this and showed All the way up from day one it would be Uh an incredible achievement we know a New club will win MLS Cup for the first Time on Saturday for John thorington and His staff they hope it'll be for lafc Either way it's going to be a treat for All of us the 3252 Bank of California This squad against Philadelphia this is What we've all been waiting for and it's Going to be a lot of fun good luck to You John thank you for taking the time To talk with us we really appreciate it And we'll see you on Saturday thanks David