Horta eligible for LAFC debut, but Bradley hints at gradual introduction

LOS ANGELES – Unless you’ve been hiding under a World Cup Trophy-shaped rock, you’re already well aware that the MLS summer transfer window opened earlier this week.

For teams across the league, the shuffle of incoming and outgoing players has begun in earnest and won’t let up until it closes on August 8.

The window has given Los Angeles Football Club, who also recently welcomed their World Cup 2018 participants back in the fold, the opportunity to officially unveil another weapon: midfielder Andre Horta.

The expansion club announced the signing of its third Designated Player, a 21-year-old Portuguese youth international who’s clocked minutes at Primeira Liga sides Vitoria and Benfica, back in March. But he only recently arrived in Los Angeles after helping Braga ensure qualification for the 2018-19 Europa League while on loan with Os Arsenalistas.

“He arrives where he has had some time off,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley of Horta following training Thursday, a session the midfielder missed due to relocation logistics.

“He’s in preseason mode while everybody else is in midseason mode.”

Horta is available for selection as early as this Sunday, when LAFC welcome the Portland Timbers (6 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2 – Full TV and streaming info) for the first of two visits to Banc of California Stadium, the second being their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal just three days later on July 18. But that doesn’t mean the midfielder will necessarily see minutes in either of those two games.

“Just because the window opened doesn’t automatically mean [Horta plays right away],” Bradley told reporters. “It’s exciting that now he’s available, but of course, like with everyone else, decisions have to fit in with what’s going on with the whole team and what goes on in training every day.”

Even without having many of their fancier weapons available, LAFC have been playing well under Bradley: They sit second in the Western Conference and are among the strongest expansion sides in league history. So naturally, inquiries about managing an embarrassment of riches emerge.

“Everybody likes to ask this question,” Bradley said. “It’s going well, where does this guy fit in?”

The LAFC boss paused, shook his head, and added, “But that’s not how you look at football.”

Complimenting Horta’s abilities as a passer, and the range of those passes, as well as his vision, movement and awareness, Bradley noted that LAFC’s newest acquisition already has all the qualities of a top midfielder – but hopes he can push him beyond that.

“When you get players, you try to find some balance between making sure the things they’ve always done well come to the forefront, but also trying to open up their minds to things we think are important,” said the coach.

Horta (left) in action for Braga | Reuters

Bradley spoke to the tendencies some midfielders have of following the ball too much without having a sense of teammates’ movement, as well as a developing patience and confidence to receive the ball when the time comes as a part of the system where midfielders “move in a coordinated way both in attack and defense.”

LAFC typically play with three central midfielders. In recent games, it’s been some combination of Eduard Atuesta, Benny Feilhaber, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Lee Nguyen. Horta is expected to join this pool of talent in the center of the park, a somewhat fluid space for the club where players often interchange and adjust positionally as needed throughout a match.

Bradley pointed to Nguyen as an example of a player who might have been encouraged on his past teams to seek and chase the ball, but has since adjusted to LAFC’s approach.

“Not all teams talk about those things,” Bradley added. “When you come here, that’s part of what happens.”

And just as he preaches patience for players working the system on the pitch, Bradley also practices restraint in rushing anything from the sideline, exciting new DP or not.

“It’s possible that getting [Horta] to where he needs to be takes a couple weeks,” Bradley suggested. “Before we get to that, over the next few days, just in terms of getting him feeling physically sharp and everything else, whether we feel he’s ready, that’s not clear yet.”