Major League Soccer is a league that can be reasonably defined by its unpredictability. With so many teams separated by so little, results around MLS are notoriously volatile. Trying to figure out if a club will carry momentum from one week into the next is usually more of a fool’s errand than an exact science.
It fits, then, that one of the few absolute truths in MLS is that every team, every year, will ride some serious ups and downs. That goes double for expansion clubs.
LAFC manager Bob Bradley knows all about that rollercoaster. His first-year outfit surprised in their first two matches, winning 1-0 at Seattle before drubbing Real Salt Lake 5-1 in Utah. They looked close to making an even bigger statement in their third match, taking a 3-0 lead early in the second-half of their match at the LA Galaxy on March 31.
Since then, things have gone a bit off the rails. LAFC gave up four goals in the final 30 minutes to lose 4-3 to the Galaxy, then, despite playing well for large stretches, fell 5-0 at Atlanta last Saturday.
Bradley was fine with the overall play of his team in both losses, but he isn’t tolerating how LAFC closed their match against Atlanta, which saw them give up three goals after the 87th minute.
“From the penalty to the end, 87 to 97, I went crazy with our team,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Wednesday. “We lost our way. Too many guys doing their own thing, not enough pure fight and courage to finish the game. It’s a day where things haven’t quite gone your way, you just shut the door at that point and finish the right way and you accept it and you move on, but what you don’t accept is the last 10 minutes.”
Bradley said he, his staff and some of LAFC’s veteran players have addressed the entire group about the finish against Atlanta, and he’s confident they’ve moved beyond it. That should allow them to focus more on continuing to build their on-field identity ahead of Friday’s game at Vancouver (10 pm ET | TSN 1/3/4/5 - Full TV & streaming info), something Bradley thinks LAFC have done a decent job of so far.
“Overall, as you build a team you look for signs that there’s football, that there’s identity and I think four games in, we feel that there’s a lot there to build on,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone Wednesday. “Even after the first two weeks, we saw that there are things that we needed to improve, for sure…. It’s impossible to be that far along in those kinds of early stages. And then in the next two weeks, we saw the things that got away from us. But then we also saw in both in the LA Galaxy and the Atlanta United matches, we also saw some moments of possession, moments of creating chances, winning the ball back quickly, so I felt I think those good things also need to be reinforced.”
LAFC should be helped along by the eventual arrival of Designated Player Andre Horta. The club announced on March 27 that they acquired the 21-year-old Portuguese youth international, but they haven’t yet revealed when exactly he’ll move to MLS.
LAFC are trying to get him in camp before the MLS primary transfer window closes on May 1, but it’s not yet clear if SC Braga – where he is currently on loan from fellow Portuguese club Benfica – will release him in time to meet that deadline. If he doesn’t join LAFC before May 1, he won’t be able to make his MLS debut until the secondary transfer window opens on July 10.
Bradley said that Horta’s recent success – he was named Liga Portugal midfielder of the month for March on Wednesday – has hurt LAFC’s efforts to expedite his arrival. Braga have been reluctant to release the central midfielder from his season-long loan before its expiration at the end of the season on May 13. The club are in fourth place and have already clinched a top-four finish, but are still in remote contention for the league title and UEFA Champions League places that go to Portugal’s top two finishers.
“It’s still a discussion. Obviously, there’s many factors but we would hope [to get him in before May 1],” Bradley said. “What’s gone against us a little bit is the fact that he’s played really well and Braga’s been on a hot streak, so that has factored into the timing. It’s something couldn’t be completely predicted, but the discussion continues and we’re excited to get him here. I think he’s going to be a key part of our football.”