Column: LAFC can be a winner again, but Bob Bradley must return as coach
Never mind the 3-3 draw against the Galaxy on Saturday, the two leads that were blown over the final 26 minutes at Banc of California Stadium, or the franchise-record winless streak, which is eight games and counting.
None of that changed the long-term prognosis.
In the maddening fourth season of its otherwise blessed existence, LAFC is at a major crossroads.
Regardless of what happened in the latest edition of El Tráfico, regardless of what happens over the remaining 13 games of the regular season, the team will have to reset over the winter.
Carlos Vela will be out of contract.
Other significant contributors such as Brian Rodriguez, who scored twice against the Galaxy, will be looking to make moves to Europe they consider overdue.
Major League Soccer’s indecipherable salary-cap and player-acquisition rules will have to be navigated.
About the only simple choice LAFC has to make is with its head coaching position.
Bob Bradley must return.
Kévin Cabral’s goal in the 86th minute lifted the Galaxy to a 3-3 draw Saturday, and LAFC coach Bob Bradley lamented a missed opportunity.
This is what in soccer is called a sitter — an easy shot, an open net from six yards. Granted, wasted opportunities at that range explain why LAFC is in ninth place and outside of the Western Conference’s seven-team postseason field, but this is a shot the team really can’t miss.
The call for Bradley to come back won’t be popular everywhere, at least not on the fringes on cyberspace where #BobOut has emerged as a hashtag.
However, this is the same coach who only two seasons ago coached what was the best regular-season team in league history.
Bradley has built this team from scratch before. With or without Vela, he should be able to build it again.
LAFC should want him back, and he should want to come back.
As much as they have accomplished together, as memorable as was the 2019 season in which LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield, ending the partnership now would feel premature.
There are still MLS Cups to be won, CONCACAF Champions League trophies to be captured.
Bradley sounds as if he’s up for it, which is half of the equation.
“Look, I’m proud of the football we’ve played,” Bradley said. “The idea that you get an opportunity to come into a club and say, ‘Look, this is what I want us to be,’ to able to engage the staff and the players every day and to have a team that goes out in a stadium with incredible fans and has a real style and identity, that is, for me, that’s been incredible. I’ve loved very second. That still consumes me every day, to keep that part going.”
Though declining to reveal any details, general manager John Thorrington said he and Bradley have talked about the future.
So why wait?
Bradley won’t say it, Thorrington won’t say it, the players won’t say it, nor should they, but the reality is that this is already shaping into a lost season for LAFC.
The team was designed to win with Vela as its centerpiece, and the 32-year-old Mexican attacker is down again, this time with a quadriceps injury that figures to have erased what remained of its diminished chances of capturing its first MLS Cup. Defensive anchor Eddie Segura is out for the season as he recovers from knee surgery.
The Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget and Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic were among 26 players called up for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
The effect of Vela’s physical condition on LAFC can’t be understated. In its four years of existence, the team is 33-18-14 when Vela plays 90 minutes.
He appeared in only seven regular-season games last year, playing 90 minutes only three times.
He’s played 17 regular-season games this year, but the full 90 only nine times.
Thorrington said that if Vela returns, the team will have to reconsider how it complements him. Bradley should be part of that process.
Every team was affected by the pandemic, but some were disrupted more than others. LAFC started 2020 looking how it did in 2019, only to have the regular season stopped after three games. In addition to its rhythm on the field, its larger plans were also affected. With the global transfer market frozen, players such as Rodriguez, Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta were unable to make their anticipated moves to Europe.
Vela declined to play in the MLS Is Back tournament, as his wife was dealing with what he described as a high-risk pregnancy. In his first game back, he injured his knee.
Then, only 22 minutes into his season opener this year, he strained his quadriceps and was sidelined for a month. From the time he returned to when he reaggravated his injury, he never seemed to be in top form.
The MLS-Liga MX All-Star game and festivities showed a potential marriage that could benefit both leagues.
But through the turmoil, Bradley’s players haven’t quit on him, continuing to play the offense-minded style of soccer he has preached.
LAFC outshot the Galaxy, 25-10, following a pattern that has developed over the season. The mentality shouldn’t be taken for granted.
When Bradley was hired, Thorrington talked about wanting to field a team that played attractively, citing Atlanta United as an example of what he had in mind. Bradley made that happen.
Thorrington should again look at Atlanta as an example. United won an MLS Cup playing an open style under Tata Martino. But when Martino departed to become the coach of the Mexican national team, Atlanta replaced him with the likes of Frank De Boer and Gabriel Heinze, who implemented more structure. Not only were the results worse, the team became less fun to watch.
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