LOS ANGELES — When Bob Bradley speaks to the media ahead of every LAFC match, he tends to primarily discuss the nature of the sporting challenge at hand.
For the Black & Gold’s upcoming match against defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Friday night (10 pm ET | ESPN in US; TSN2 in Canada), he was more direct than usual.
“The main challenge of this game is Josef Martinez,” Bradley said following training Tuesday.
While his own attacking genius Carlos Vela might be on a path to break the Venezuelan’s MLS single-season scoring record, the LAFC boss was keenly aware of the skills last year’s MLS MVP will bring to Banc of California Stadium this week.
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“He’s so sharp and alert in the box to finding chances, movements, pouncing on any opportunity,” Bradley said of Atlanta’s marquee attacker. “He’s got real qualities inside the box.”
To stop Martinez, Bradley acknowledged that his team must maintain their concentration and awareness in every situation, something his side failed to do last week when facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Galaxy’s 3-2 victory in Carson.
Last season, Bradley’s men also faced Atlanta United in the match immediately following a derby defeat in the Swede’s first MLS match. The strange April 2018 match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw an early red card for Atlanta rescinded with LAFC picking up a red card late as the home side piled three goals after the 88th minute in a 5-0 victory.
This year, LAFC will welcome their Eastern Conference counterparts to their home ground — a place they’ve only ever lost once in league play — where midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye feels the outcome might be different.
“We’ve done well in the last year and half to make sure that is a stadium that is very difficult to come in and get results,” said the Canadian midfield linchpin, who saw facing a tough opponent directly after the Galaxy loss as a benefit for the league leaders. “Atlanta is going to be a good test. It’s almost better to play against one of the top teams in the league right after you lose, because then you understand that everything needs to be heightened and you need to get back to where you were before.”
After an illuminating video session and a cathartic training on Monday as well as a strong day Tuesday, both Kaye and Bradley felt LAFC had already moved on from the derby defeat. They also know that just as they aren’t the same outfit as last season, 2019 has also been a year of change for the team from Georgia, who’ve been on a good stretch of late.
“They’ve tweaked a little bit with their ways of playing and they’ve had some days where it’s a little bit of a hybrid that at times with three in the back or it could be five in the back, so its been a little different in that regard,” said Bradley who also identified Julian Gressel, Pity Martinez, and Ezequiel Barco, who has recently returned to training, as players to keep an eye on. “Frank de Boer, some of his ideas are a little bit different than Tata [Martino]’s. Maybe they’re not quite as much in transition but there’s a little more control if I were to simplify it but in the midst of all that, Josef Martinez. He’s an excellent striker.”