LOS ANGELES – Back in early September, when LAFC locked down the top spot in the Western Conference and a guaranteed playoff bye in the new Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoff format, the questions already began about how the 18 days off would affect them.
How would the team stay sharp? Would it be a chance for the squad to tweak a few extra things before their first knockout game? Can it be an opportunity for players to regain fitness from the slog of their record-setting season?
While the world will have to wait for Thursday night’s Western Conference Semifinal run-in with the LA Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN4, TVAS in Canada) to discover the answers to some of those questions, the Black & Gold’s training session on Monday offered at least one answer.
“Having that bye was great,” said Jordan Harvey following training Monday. “It’s huge, having some time off and getting guys healthy again from the last game of the season.”
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Almost lost in all the accolades collected by Harvey, his captain Carlos Vela — the new goal king of MLS — and the rest of LAFC’s record-setting squad during that 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Decision Day presented by AT&T, was a frightening head injury to Walker Zimmerman.
The knock left the LAFC center back having to withdraw from the US men’s national team roster and immediately begin recovery.
“We’ve followed all the proper steps so he’s now back into training,” said Bob Bradley.
After returning to light training last week, Zimmerman trained at full-speed Monday alongside another player who’d been out of the LAFC fold for a few weeks — Adama Diomande.
“It’s been enough time now that [Diomande’s] back in training and he wasn’t away that long,” said Bradley of the Norwegian striker, who voluntarily entered into the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavior Health Program a month ago. “He‘s been in a good frame of mind and sharp in training, good to see.”
The last piece of the squad to enjoy the benefit of the extra time winning the West has afforded the Supporters’ Shield winners has been Mark-Anthony Kaye, who pulled up with a hamstring injury early in Canadian national team’s victory over the USMNT last week.
“He felt something, so he had to come out early in a match and we’re trying to assess what caused him to pull up a little bit, and that’s the day-to-day part,” said Bradley of his Canadian midfielder. “You take all the normal steps just to not only assess what’s there but what’s brought it on.”
For the players, welcoming these faces back to the training ground means LAFC have a full lineup to choose from ahead of the pivotal clash with the Galaxy, but also for training in the interim, as Harvey explained.
“Having guys that have contributed to the whole season getting back in the fold and having this full squad come playoff time is great because trainings are better,” he said, “which makes the games better.”