LAFC look to newcomers as squad rotation looms after hectic, draining week

LOS ANGELES – Exactly a week ago, when LAFC were coming off a 10-day break following their 2-2 home draw with the LA Galaxy, they faced three matches of season-defining gravitas.

Had things gone slightly differently in each of those games, the expansion side might be in a cup final and sitting at or near the top the Western Conference.

Instead, after losing all three of those matches, the Black-and-Gold are out of the U.S. Open Cup and have dropped to fifth place in the West.

In the wake of these results, an influx of new players from the summer window and injuries or exhaustion setting in, it’s not a matter of if Bob Bradley is going to rotate going forward, but how. The LAFC boss spoke about the changes following Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Sporting KC.

“First of all, it was really good to get [Luis Lopez] on the field. He had the games in Orange County [SC], but it’s the same as getting him his first game here. Overall, okay. For me, the play that leads to the penalty, the ball’s moving and maybe he can get it further away, so there’s a little part to that, but overall not bad.”

The Honduran international goalkeeper, who many expected was brought in to be the starter, only recently came off a long injury spell.

“It was a long time coming,” Lopez said in Spanish after the match. “I’ve still got to practice and work hard so that my career in the MLS is a long and good one.”

Like Lopez, Designated Player Andre Horta made his first start for LAFC Saturday and appears to be a major part of Bradley’s plans going into the last couple months of the regular season.

“I thought tonight overall with [Horta], there were signs of things getting better,” Bradley said of his 21-year-old Benfica-bred DP. “First half, as I said, he was not involved enough, but with the way we changed in the second half, that got a little bit better. [There is] just more work to be done.”

Though the Portuguese midfielder has shown flashes of what he brings to the table on both sides of the ball, the player admitted there is still progress to be made as he gets into better form coming off a break after playing a full European campaign.

“I think this is a process and I think I can improve more,” said Horta of his performance Saturday night. “It’s good, of course, to play, because it’s more helpful for me to improve my play. I think if I play more and more minutes, it’s better for me.”

With Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman rested amid the congested fixture list, new signing Danilo Silva got the start in central defense Saturday, putting in a solid shift on the back line in front of Lopez.

“I thought Danilo had strong defending and simple passing from the back, so for a debut there, I was pleased in those ways,” said Bradley afterward.

The Brazilian is another player likely to see continued action for LAFC, with another string of three matches — this time over nine days — starting Wednesday at home against Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET | ESPN2, TSN2 — Full TV and streaming info), at Banc of California Stadium again Saturday when the Colorado Rapids come to town, and finally, one last regular-season face-off against the Galaxy on Friday, Aug. 24.

Christian Ramirez's diving header vs. SKC | USA Today Sports Images

The last new face rotating in for LAFC on Saturday was Christian Ramirez, who arrived from Minnesota United toward the end of the secondary transfer window and will likely get chances right away, with Adama Diomande out with a hamstring injury and Marco Ureña continuing to struggle to find goals.

“It felt good,” Ramirez said of his debut. “I probably should have scored, but I’m new to the team and jumping into it quickly. I’ve only been here for two days but still should have scored.”

His coach agreed.

“Christian is unlucky not to score,” Bradley said of his new striker’s performance. “On the diving [header], if you look at what he’s done in his career, that’s a goal that he normally scores, so that’s a bit unlucky, but it’s good to get everybody moving forward a little bit.”