Bob Bradley: Matias Almeyda, Guillermo Barros Schelotto bring passion

LOS ANGELES — Last month, the LA Galaxy hosted their two biggest rivals in back to back games, coming away with a loss (3-1 at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes) and a victory (3-2 vs LAFC). 

Now the Black-and-Gold will host their own pair of the fixtures at Banc of California Stadium as part of MLS Heineken Rivalry Week, hoping to get a full six points and further extend their lead at the top of MLS in the present, for the postseason and in the record books.

Among the three California clubs, only league debutants LAFC made the MLS Cup Playoffs last year. But with two high-profile coaching changes, the Quakes and the Galaxy look primed to compete for the 2019 MLS Cup.

FFC coach Bob Bradley, those managerial switches have made all the difference in the levels of their rivals this year. He believes their shared background is a big reason why.

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“For me, it’s simple, both [Matias] Almeyda and [Guillermo Barros] Schelotto have experience as players and as managers and they’re Argentine,” the LAFC coach said at the club’s performance center Monday. “[There’s] this idea that you’re making sure your teams play with passion and compete and play to win.”

Between them, Bradley’s coaching opponents this week amassed more than 400 appearance as players for the two Buenos Aires clubs at the center of the country’s — and arguably the world’s — most intense rivalry. Considering the two coaches' careers as players and managers, it’s remarkable they’ve never both taken part in the same Argentine Superclasico.

Almeyda donned the famed red stripe of River Plate as a player from 1991-96 and again from 2009-11 before taking over as manager of the club from 2011-2012. Schelotto played for Boca Juniors from 1997-2007, becoming the head coach at La Bombonera from 2016-2018.

Bradley sees a similar streak in both players for the passion synonymous with exports from Albiceleste shores.

“You don’t survive as a player or as a manager in Argentina unless you have [the passion] and that’s why there’s so many great players that come from Argentina. That’s why now you see so many top coaches, Tata Martino and Marcelo Bielsa and guys that now, they brought this passion — Mauricio Pochettino — I think that now in our league with Almeyda and Schelotto, you see that in their teams and that makes for good matches.”

The Argentine bosses have turned around both clubs, who are currently both above the playoff line going into their matches against LAFC. Though he admitted the media attention and many supporters in Southern California have the Sunday meeting with the Galaxy (10:30 PM ET | FS1, TSN1) in their sights, the task of facing Almeyda’s tough Quakes side Wednesday (10:30 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) has demanded the team’s full focus.

“I think maybe if we weren’t playing San Jose, there would be a tendency to maybe start thinking ahead a little bit, but I think San Jose is a strong team,” Bradley said. “They have really earned our respect so I think we’ve really got to focus on Wednesday.”

Bradley again spoke highly of San Jose’s man-marking system, their physical fitness, and the tight game the Quakes force opponents to play. He also reiterated that, although his own footballing ideas are different from Almeyda’s, the league is benefiting from the diversity in approaches.

“It’s a sign of growth for the league,” Bradley said. “As different managers arrive and they’ve got ideas, you see more and more teams that they have a set identity. When you look around the league and you know on any given day how a team plays and what they’re all about, then that speaks to the league moving along. That speaks to more football ideas being spread out and teams trying to find what works best for them.”

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