LAFC coach Bob Bradley had little time to enjoy Thursday’s dramatic CONCACAF Champions League win over León. In fact, he hadn’t even left the postgame news conference before he started counting the hours to Sunday’s MLS opener with Inter Miami at Banc of California Stadium.
“Less than 72 hours,” he said of the time between the final whistle of the León game and the matinee kickoff against Miami. “Do the math. 64 hours or something like this.”
Actually 65½, far too little time, in Bradley’s mind, to transition from a do-or-die international tournament game to the first of 34 regular-season MLS games.
LAFC posted the best regular-season record in league history last season and tied the MLS record for goals with 85, but it was bounced in the playoffs short of the MLS Cup for the second year in a row. The oddsmakers have LAFC as the heavy favorite to win the title this season.
Bradley’s team will get started on that Sunday against Inter Miami, one of two expansion teams entering the league this weekend. The game will mark David Beckham’s return to Southern California and MLS, this time as a team owner. Beckham won two MLS Cups as a player with the Galaxy.
“You know, we’re really looking forward to this game. It’s very nice for the MLS to give us an easy game for our first match,” Beckham joked of Inter Miami’s debut at Banc of California, where LAFC has lost just two regular-season games in as many seasons.
But LAFC faces its own challenge.
“We have to turn around quick,” Bradley said. “If you go back to the mentality of the team … look, it’s our home opener. So we’ve got to be ready. We’re going to try like crazy to ensure that the same football and the same mentality is there every night.”
That likely means squad rotation. Nine of the LAFC’s 10 outfield players went at least 83 minutes against León, among them Carlos Vela, who scored twice but was clearly tired late in the second half. Vela, who set an MLS scoring record with 34 goals last season, turns 31 Sunday.
Defender Jordan Harvey, who did not appear in either of the two Champions League games with León, is likely to start against Miami while Adrien Perez, who provided a huge spark off the bench Thursday, could see more playing time.
For goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, the León game is in the rearview mirror. The focus now is on the present, not the future or the past.
“Go game by game. That’s the most important. To not look too much forward,” he said. “Now Miami is the most important game.”