LOS ANGELES – Where will LAFC’s next player come from? When will they be announced? What position is most needed? How will they find them?
Apparently, not LAFC coach Bob Bradley and GM John Thorrington.
“There are so many things going on right now,” Bradley said, raising his voice to compete with the chorus of chants from nearby supporters as he spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Expansion Draft. “While we’re involved in Expansion Draft and free agency, we’re also involved in many different discussions with players that we’ve seen from different parts of the world.”
One more piece of the puzzle became clear on Thursday when the club announced the long-rumored of young Uruguayan forward Diego Rossi, who will occupy a Designated Player spot on the LAFC roster.
When pressed on a specific position he was going after next — the club’s been light on midfield players thus far — the coach remained vague.
“We certainly understand that to become a good team you’ve got to have a midfield that can drive your team,” Bradley said. “We’re working hard on making sure that part gets put together.”
The club’s scouting network is as global as their stated ambitions and based on their existing roster — featuring players from Belgium, Costa Rica, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Argentina, Georgia, New Jersey, and, yes, Los Angeles — there are no geographical biases at play.
The club dealt Expansion Draft selections Raheem Edwards and Jukka Raitala to Montreal on Tuesday for defender Laurent Ciman. For the moment, it looks they’ll hang onto their remaining three expansion draft picks. But are there other trades in the works?
“What I would say is that there are trade conversations about everybody, all the time,” Thorrington said in answer to a few reporters’ questions demanding specifics.
Apparently, the murky details also apply to naming the club’s coaching staff.
“We’re getting there,” was all Bradley offered when asked about hiring his staff. “Everything has been slow but we are working on things.”
Founded over three years ago, the speed of LAFC’s announcements on nearly everything apart from their stadium sponsor has been slower than their fellow MLS expansion predecessors.
Figuring the club might have a better read on the situation with their neighboring affiliate club, the USL’s Orange County SC, a reporter asked Thorrington if the LAFC loan players there would receive call-ups to the first team.
“Some are,” he said. “Some are not.”
While he confirmed it’s at least possible for players to make the jump from LAFC’s USL partner, Thorrington refused to comment at all about whether newly-hired scout and former MLS star Juan Pablo Angel had initiated talks with Atletico Nacional, his hometown club, about bringing players to MLS.
Almost out of desperation as much as rumor, Thorrington was asked if 38-year-old free-agent Nick Rimando, who grew up locally and attended UCLA — and also played for Bob Bradley when he was in charge of the national team — might be signed as veteran guidance for newly acquired goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
Thorrington shot an unreadable grin and said, “We’ll see.”
Yet, even after dozens more players are signed or loaned or traded for, there is also the small matter of actually making the cut to play for LAFC in their inaugural MLS season.
“Those first days of preseason you always have almost two squads, because you’re looking at trialists and draft picks that aren’t necessarily signed,” Thorrington said. “I’ve been in camps that have 35 or 40 guys.”
If these answers all sound like they are eluding questions and being mum about specifics, on second glance, 2017 has portended a new reality for MLS expansion clubs following in the wake of Atlanta’s success, especially with LAFC’s hype machine behind them. It’s a reality where almost any player acquisition at least seems possible.
“I picked a lot of guys in the expansion draft in Chicago that ended up on the field, that were starters,” Bradley said, remembering his experience building the Fire in 1997. “I hope that we’re successful with that again but the opportunity to go outside the United States and attract different kinds of talent, the league has changed in those ways.”
The new influx of discretionary Targeted Allocation Money only expands the possible player pool for the club.
If they can’t pinpoint any players they’ve identified, name any specific clubs they’ve spoken to, discuss which positions their going after, or elaborate on their own USL-affiliate loan players, it might be because they are playing the typical offseason cat-and-mouse game with the media — or because the possibilities are really that enormous.
Either way, expectations for LAFC remain equally enormous and when Bradley was asked to set an objective for the expansion’s sides first season, he looked at it this way:
“If you say to me, ‘what do we want?’ We want to win MLS Cup, but you don’t talk about that when you have eight players, you talk about how to get the ninth player.”
That number — currently at nine — will likely grow in the coming days. Until the club kicks off in March, however, the roster will remain malleable, subject to subtraction or addition at any time, from anywhere.
Toward the end of Tuesday’s draft-and-trade hysteria, Thorrington was pressed for a timeline when he would have a better idea of his final squad.
“The roster compliance date.”