Adama Diomande has gotten his MLS career off to a historically good start, scoring an eye-popping nine goals through his first seven games – only five of which were starts – to help LAFC transform from an exciting expansion team into one of the clear-cut favorites in the Western Conference.
His off-the-charts stats have turned heads around the league, especially considering he spent the three seasons before he signed for LAFC in May playing sparingly and scoring less for Hull City in the English Premier League and Championship.
His form has been one of the shocks of the MLS season, but the 28-year-old Norwegian’s insane run hasn’t been that big of a surprise for LAFC head coach Bob Bradley.
Bradley first coached Diomande back in 2015 at Norwegian club Stabaek. Though they were widely predicted to be a candidate for relegation from the country’s top flight, Stabaek had an excellent year, finishing third in the Tippeligaen to earn a spot in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Europa League. Diomande was perhaps their best player, finishing second in the league with in 17 goals in 21 matches before he moved to Hull that September.
Between Stabaek and LAFC, Diomande now has 26 goals in 28 career league games under Bradley. He has 24 goals in 118 league matches under all other managers since he made his first-division debut in 2012.
“It’s just more freedom with him,” Diomande told MLSsoccer.com of his relationship with Bradley. “He’s the kind of coach that says how can he make you better, but he doesn’t take away the things you’re good at all. That’s what I like with him.”
Though they were together only for a little more than five months at Stabaek, Bradley and Diomande established a strong working relationship in Norway. That continued after the striker moved to Hull in the final hours of the 2015 summer transfer window, with the two staying in contact as Bradley moved to Le Havre in France and Swansea in the EPL. The veteran manager got back in touch with Diomande after he was hired by LAFC last summer, reaching out to express interest in bringing him to California in 2018.
It took a while, but the deal eventually got done. With Diomande not seeing much time for a Hull team that had little left to play for in their Championship campaign, LAFC used Targeted Allocation Money to sign him just before the close of the MLS Primary Transfer Window on May 1.
“His stretch at Hull was not easy,” said Bradley. “He had different managers and I don’t think he ever really felt comfortable and felt like he showed what he could do. And so, as we were building our team, we talked with him and his agent and started to get a sense of what he was thinking about and eventually it all came together.”
Diomande’s early arrival was driven in part by his anxiousness to get back on the field as soon as possible. He had options to sign elsewhere in Europe, but he didn’t want to have to wait until the summer to make a move and until August for his next chance to get back in an XI. That tipped the scales in favor of a primary window move to MLS and LAFC, where he’s been a near-perfect fit in Bradley’s system.
He’s excellent at occupying center backs and understands when to come off his marker, receive the ball and play a pass to put a teammate through. He’s drawn headlines for his ability to get himself on the end of those plays, but it’s his off-the-ball work – his ability to know how and where to run and press – that’s set the table for so many of them.
Even when he first arrived in LA and had to work off some rust, Diomande had that knowledge. He might not have had the cleanest touches during his first few games with the club, but, thanks to his familiarity with Bradley’s system, he was putting himself and his teammates in good spots.
It didn’t hurt that he scored a couple of goals, either.
“When he got here, I could tell that there was some rust left over from Hull, from not always playing as a striker, from not playing regularly and even at the end of the season, not training regularly,” said Bradley. “So, when he got here, I just said to him, ‘Listen man, we’ve got some work to do to get you back to what I know you can be.’
“Now I see every game, he’s getting a little sharper, his touches, his movement, so I’m pleased. Having had the experience with him in 2015, I think that year in Stabaek he scored in the first game, then he went some games without a goal and then all of a sudden you could just see everything coming together. He got sharp, got confidence and then he went on a fantastic run of scoring important goals and leading the team. I’m excited to see if we can make that happen again.”
Unsurprisingly, Diomande is happy in his new home, too. The striker is a dangerous part of perhaps the most talented roster in the West. And with Mexican star Carlos Vela back from World Cup duty, Designated Player Andre Horta possibly in line for his debut this weekend against Portland, Diomande and Marco Ureña emerging as excellent options up top, Diego Rossi terrorizing the wings and Benny Feilhaber, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Lee Nguyen running the midfield, they show no signs of slowing down.
“I’ve always been effective around the goal when I’ve been able to play my position, but the last couple of years I’ve been playing right midfield, left midfield, wingback, and that’s not my position at all,” said Diomande.
“I’m just happy to get all the right movements in the right times where I’ve always been dangerous in front of the goal. It’s really been a pleasure to be a part of the team again and start helping them to achieve all the things were doing together.”