Despite dropping points by conceding another late goal and also dropping down to the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, LAFC head coach Bob Bradley still feels he has a team that can compete for the title when the postseason kicks off on the weekend of November 20.
“I think we’ve had moments throughout this whole season where our play has been very good,” Bradley said after a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers on Decision Day presented by AT&T. “I’ve said a number of times that we’ve been more inconsistent and that’s what’s cost us. Whether it’s inconsistent with finishing games like tonight, whether it’s occasionally inconsistent with defending set pieces, concentration. So we’ve hurt ourselves.
“When Carlos [Vela] is there and when as many guys as possible are fit, sharp, and in good form we still believe that we have a team that can win MLS Cup.”
Highlights: LAFC 1, Portland 1
Vela, who played his first 90 minutes since March 8, and teammate Tristan Blackmon playing the full match proved a highlight of the season finale for LAFC, who conceded a crushing 90th-minute equalizer. The Timbers scored on a clinical counter after LAFC missed a scoring opportunity on the other end. And Bradley used the Timbers goal to highlight a general lack of sharpness in several aspects of the game which has led to some of the inconsistent moments in 2020 from a club that finished with the league's best-ever regular season record just a year ago.
“For me, we haven’t been consistent enough. And that’s in all parts of the game,” Bradley said. “You can say that it’s a percentage down in all areas versus last year when we were at our best or even earlier this year when we started. So we’ve been a little bit less consistent, a little bit down and I think you could say that most of our players, as you go through the year have been a little bit down form their best. And so these are the fine margins.
“But I’m hoping that the inconsistencies that drive us crazy still in some ways serve as lessons, and that we can take advantage and be a really good team in a few weeks when we play in Seattle,” Bradley continued.
The No. 2-seeded Sounders will be LAFC's Round One opponents in the Western Conference playoffs and it will be a postseason rematch after the Sounders ended LAFC's run in 2019 with a shock 3-1 win in LA in the Western Conference Championship.
Bradley's men will be out to settle the score, but they’ll probably have to do it without four international players who will be leaving to join Uruguay and Ecuador for World Cup Qualifying matches later this month. MLS leading scorer Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez were called up by Uruguay for matches on Nov. 13 and Nov. 17, while left back Diego Palacios and midfielder Jose Cifuentes were summoned by Ecuador (Nov. 12 & Nov. 17).
Bradley indicated that the four players may not clear quarantine in time depending on the date of their Round One match against Seattle.
“Is it frustrating? It’s incredibly frustrating but there’s nothing that we can do,” Bradley said. “So you make sure that everybody that’s going to be here is ready.”
Even without some of their best players, Bradley is convinced there's an extra gear the team can reach in the postseason as LAFC seek to win MLS Cup in their third MLS season.
“We’re not happy with where we finished in the standings. I think we have a better team than that,” Bradley said about his team after No. 3 and No. 1 finishes in their first two seasons. “There are things that happened this year, but you know I’ve never spent any time talking about them or using any of that as an excuse. It’s on us when we show up every day to push ourselves and see the things that need to get better and continue as a top team and we’ve hurt ourselves this year.
“When all is said and done, we saw it in Los Angeles with the Lakers [NBA champions] and with the Dodgers [MLB champions]. With everything that’s gone on in the country and the world this year, some teams still at the end have something special, something different. There’s a mentality, there’s a concentration, there’s a determination and I’m hoping we can find it. I believe we’re capable of winning MLS Cup, but again you go a game at a time.”