LOS ANGELES – June and July was always going to be a tough period for LAFC.
They knew they’d have a handful of World Cup call-ups. They knew they’d be competing in the U.S. Open Cup for the first time. And they knew they’d be without their third Designated Player, Andre Horta.
The Portuguese midfielder signed for LAFC in March but his form for SC Braga meant the team wasn't ready to let him move until after the close of the Primary Transfer Window in May. He would officially join up at the start of the Secondary Window on July 10.
“He’s been waiting a long time to get his chance,” said Bob Bradley of Horta following his debut against the LA Galaxy Thursday night.
Though he’s been available on paper, Horta still had to get to match fit. Before coming on late during the 2-2 draw against the Galaxy Thursday, he had only been named to the bench on one occasion – LAFC’s visit to Minnesota last weekend.
“[Horta’s] skill on the ball and his composure can make a difference for us,” Bradley said, confident his club’s midfield will be bolstered by the highly-rated midfielder who’s signing was viewed of as coup by many across the league.
Horta’s availability couldn’t have come at a better time for the expansion outfit, who despite coughing up a late lead – one goal coming from a Horta mistake – were able to extend their unbeaten home streak to 10 games, but lost a key piece who had helped control contests at Banc of California.
“That part had me in a bad mood since I got the report at halftime,” Bradley said about hearing news of Mark-Anthony Kaye’s ankle fracture around the 20th minute of the match against the Galaxy.
The injury will require surgery, leaving Bradley likely having to pick between four players to compose his preferred three-prong midfield: the two 21-year-olds — Horta and Eduard Atuesta — and his two former US internationals and MLS veterans Lee Nguyen (31) and Benny Feilhaber (33).
Finding a balance between the domestic experience and the international potential — as well as the attributes of each individual player — in the middle of the park will be essential for LAFC’s next challenge: An August that begins with five matches in just 14 days and includes a USOC semifinal clash against the Houston Dynamo.
LAFC finished 7-2-3 across all competitions in their tricky June and July stretch, good enough to remain near the top of the Western Conference, but August will go a long way to defining their season. That will include one more chance to show they can cap off the dominant performances they’ve put in against the Galaxy with the points to prove it at the StubHub Center on August 24.
Whoever fills the midfield from now until then must be ready to deliver.
Talisman Carlos Vela – a player who has done that for LAFC time and again this season —reminded reporters Thursday night that he too has experience and plans to help get the best out of the team’s newest midfielder.
“I am here to try to help Horta and the other guys to be better players,” said Vela. “We know he can bring really great things for the team.”