LOS ANGELES – After fielding an expected barrage of questions prodding at the rumors swirling about Carlos Vela’s potential move to FC Barcelona on Monday, Bob Bradley finally got a chance to talk about something he wanted to talk about: football ideas.
“From the beginning last year, we were very clear that we had a vision for our club, for the way we play, for our philosophy, how it connects with the academy, the kind of culture, the mentality, the identity,” said the LAFC boss after opening training camp. “We were very clear that it wasn’t going to be like, if a couple games don't go the right way, that all the sudden were going to say, 'okay, scrap that plan, here is a new one' we’re going to continue to work in a way where in the long run we’re, this is what we want to be."
With many teams around MLS teams going through massive overhauls, whether in terms of coaching changes or roster rebuilds, the league newcomers are looking to stick to their plan.
That’s not to say Bradley doesn’t want to see it improve.
“Enough guys could see the positives from last year,” he said. “When we started today I think we all agreed,  was a good start. But there is way more to go.”
How did those ideas manifest in a campaign that saw them earn more points than any MLS expansion team in history?
“We were great getting on the top foot of teams,” said midfielder Lee Nguyen, who joined LAFC a few months into the inaugural season. “We were scoring goals early and often and going forward.”
Bradley put forth an attacking unit that saw LAFC finish second in goals scored — only MLS Cup champions Atlanta United hit for more — with three players finishing in double digits (Vela hit 14, fellow Designated Player Diego Rossi scored 12, and late Norwegian addition Adama Diomande added another 12).
Despite the attacking flair, LAFC also managed to cough up 12 points after leading matches at halftime. Nguyen noted that needed to change if LAFC were going to have a chance at silverware in 2019.
“We’ll try to control games after taking the lead,” said the former New England Revolution playmaker. “Late in games, not conceding goals, not giving up easy goals, sloppy goals, that give away points because that will cost us toward the end — we saw how that was in terms of playoff seedings [last year].”
LAFC finished third in the Western Conference, narrowly missed out on a Knockout Round playoff bye and suffering a home upset to Real Salt Lake, who managed to turn two shots on target into three goals, the last a game-winning own goal off Walker Zimmerman.
With Zimmerman – currently away at US men's national team camp — and veterans Dejan Jakovic and Danilo Silva inking new deals with the club, Colombian center back Eddie Segura and former Orlando City left back Mohamed El-Munir coming on board, LAFC feel their defense is improved over last season.
But more than focusing on any specific strengths or weaknesses in areas of the squad, Bradley feels keeping a group of players together can be the difference between a one-year project and one that lasts into the future.
“[Roster] continuation on that end is so important, so you can build from one year to the next and try to take the work that was done, the experiences, the ups, the downs, the disappointments and turn them into more,” the coach said.
Vela is among the most important pieces of that. And if his captain and team weren’t doing some things right, would the Blaugrana come calling in the first place?
“I’d like to think the [Barcelona interest in Vela] says something about the kind of football we played in the first year,” Bradley said. “It certainly speaks to the fact that when Carlos left Spain and came here, his motivation, his play in the World Cup, the kind of season that he had, that all those things were noticed around the world.”
How important is the Mexican international to those continuity plans in the eyes of his teammates?
“I hope he stays,” said Nguyen, sporting the same grin he and Vela shared when they were jostling through cones together in a drill a few minutes earlier. “I told him I’m taking his keys and his passport, so he can’t leave.”