When the Los Angeles Football Club made Bob Bradley the expansion team’s first manager, part of the reason was his devotion to a singular style of play.
Under Bradley, LAFC (13-7-8 ) would be aggressive, attack in waves and use a short-passing game to dominate time of possession. It would be an attractive and successful — if not particularly original — brand of soccer.
“Every time I give football examples, I use Barcelona,” Bradley said, referring to the Spanish champions whose playbook he copied.
And for the most part, that approach has worked. LAFC goes into Saturday’s match with San Jose (4-17-8) at Banc of California Stadium as one of the most successful first-year teams in MLS history. It leads the Western Conference with 55 goals, is unbeaten in its last five games — the third time this season it’s gone more than a month between losses — and could move into second in the conference with a win.
Yet despite all that, Bradley said the teaching process is far from complete.
“To become a top team, in some ways you’re never satisfied,” he said. “The big part of trying to be a team that can really play great football from start to finish, we’ll probably need a little more time.”
Time, however, is running out. LAFC has only six games left in the regular season and will need a strong finish to clinch the first-round playoff bye that goes to the top two teams in each conference. LAFC would be a lot closer to that reward if it hadn’t allowed a game-tying or go-ahead goal in the final 15 minutes nine times this season, most recently in last week’s 1-1 draw with New England.
The next test will come from a San Jose team that has won only four games this season but will be playing its second match under new coach Steve Ralston, named interim manager after Mikael Stahre was fired Monday 28 games into his first season. In Ralston’s debut Wednesday, the Earthquakes let a pair of two-goal leads get away in a loss to Atlanta United.
“In one season you still take the football ideas and now we want to see enough positives that you keep going,” Bradley said. “Even while we work on this bigger long-term project, toward the end of the season the small details are what will determine [success].
“In some moments, it’s not just about are you Barcelona. It’s can you defend a little bit better? Can you protect a lead?”
Bradley has five weeks before the playoffs to get those answers right.