LOS ANGELES – LAFC returned to preseason this week with something to prove after their 2019 Supporters’ Shield-winning season was halted in the Western Conference final, and they’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so, starting with their Feb. 18 Concacaf Champions League opener at Club Leon.
Nearly everyone of consequence is back, and there are a few new faces – young South American midfielders Jose Cifuentes and Francisco Ginella are of note – as Bob Bradley's team prepares for their third MLS campaign.
“I think [camp] starts with just that we've got an idea of what kind of team we want to be, what kind of club we want to be, and how can we just keep building on things,” Bradley said following the first session Monday at the team's training center on the Cal State Los Angeles campus. “That includes the kind of football we play, that includes the mentality.
“I think that we've been fortunate in the first two years that there's enough times we step on the field [that] we do some good things, obviously the connection we have with our supporters. So, the way we continue to build on that everyday [is to remember] so many of the good things that happened last year were based upon just accumulating good training days.”
Ginella and Cifuentes, along with winger Diego Rossi, holding midfielder Eduard Atuesta and center back Eddie Segura, are in Colombia for South America's Olympic qualifiers, which begin Saturday and run through Feb. 9. Center back Walker Zimmerman, meanwhile, is with the US men's national team in their January camp.
And the team faces a big question mark at goalkeeper. Tyler Miller, who’s out of contract, isn't in camp, leaving his backup, 24-year-old Mexican Pablo Sisniega, as the No. 1 for now. Sisniega started six games last season.
“We're looking at different positions where we can still improve, and goalkeeper is one of them, for sure,” said Bradley, who also has Phillip Ejimadu, back from loan at FC Tucson, and Paulo Pita, Brazilian first-round draft pick, both in camp. “Last year, Pablo made great strides under [goalkeeper coach] Zak [Abdel]'s work, showed real promise in some of the games, and so we feel good about him continuing to develop and move along.”
Miller, Bradley said, needs to “figure out what he wants to do, and while that's going on, we're looking at different options as well. So we'll see over time.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips, 35, has joined LAFC's preseason camp looking for a club after his contract with the New York Red Bulls expired. The English striker scored 104 goals from 2014 through 2018, but injuries limited him to nine starts and just two goals last season.
“Last year he was injured a lot, so I think one of the ideas [during his trial] is to try to get an idea physically where he is,” Bradley said of BWP. “And just, for a player at the end of his career, you've got to make sure it's the right fit on both sides.”
There are two other trialists in camp: 19-year-old Australian midfielder Sam Silvera and Mexican defender Christian Diaz, who played last year with Forward Madison FC in USL League One.
As the moves unravel, LAFC will look to build off their record-setting points (72) and goal differential (plus-48) totals from 2019, but their playoff exit at the hands of the Seattle Sounders “left a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths, gives us that extra motivation going forward,” left-back Jordan Harvey said.
Now, Bradley wants 2020 to be the next step in LAFC's evolution.
“The first two seasons were good,” he said. “Over time [we] will get measured by growing from season to season, having an identity that continues to be there from one team to the next to the next to the next. You have a chance over time to win more trophies, so when you say what the first two years were about, we see the positives and now we want to build on that.
“That's over time how you can establish yourself as a big club. In two years, you can't do that."