LAFC head coach Bob Bradley has stressed that he and the club are behind the decision of 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Carlos Vela not to participate in the MLS is Back Tournament due to a family situation. The star forward's wife is currently expecting their second child.
"I just want to reinforce that I stand 100% behind Carlos," Bradley said on a conference call Monday afternoon, as the team was getting ready to depart for Orlando. "It's important for him to be with his family right now. We've talked about it within the team, the rest of the coaching staff, all of his teammates feel exactly the same way."
The former Mexican international started the first four games of the season at the striker position (including Concacaf Champions League), with both Adama Diomande and Bradley Wright-Phillips dealing with injuries. Vela shuttled between that position, and his normal position on the wing, with Diego Rossi. Neither are naturals in the striker role, but that setup did allow Young Designated Player Brian Rodriguez to get two starts on the wing.
"It is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy. I will miss being with my teammates and coaches, but I will be cheering and supporting LAFC from a distance." - @11carlosV https://t.co/ta9PlhTLcj— LAFC (@LAFC) July 6, 2020
"I've said in this last month, Diego has really been in good form — really working hard and had a very good mentality," said Bradley about his young star who finished No. 1 on MLSsoccer.com's 22 Under 22 rankings last year.
"And Brian is a talented guy and he is someone that we're just trying to help. I think sometimes he puts pressure on himself and we're just trying to take that pressure away and get him to play as free as he can and show everybody what he can do."
With Vela now out, Rodriguez and Rossi are likely to be fixtures on the two wings in Bob Bradley's 4-3-3 formation. Diomande and Wright-Phillips are both working back to full health, and Bradley confirmed that neither are 90 minutes fit.
"Brad has been back in training, showing some good things," Bradley said. "Obviously his ability around the goal is still special. He's not ready to play 90 minutes but you can see the understanding that is developing between Brad and some of the other attackers and we're hopeful that he can really be an important guy for us as we move through the season and certainly we'll see a little of him in Orlando."
“[He] has made progress,” Bradley said of Wright-Phillips on Saturday. “He is back in regular training. He’s not ready to play a full match, but I still think he can give us really good minutes in Orlando.”
If neither are able to start, Bradley could turn to Adrien Perez to fill in at either the wing or striker positions. The 24-year-old scored one goal in 206 minutes last season and made substitute appearances in both of LAFC's CCL matches this season.
But there was yet another name mentioned by Bradley.
"We still have the option to play Latif [Blessing] up front and then use somebody else in the midfield because we're a little bit deeper in the midfield right now."
Blessing came into MLS with Sporting Kansas City playing on the wing and joined LAFC figuring to play the same role. But since the start of last season, the Ghanian has been an integral figure in central midfield. If he were to be pushed back up the field, there would be more opportunities for youth South American internationals Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes in the midfield.
LAFC are set to arrive in Orlando on Monday and will play their first match next Monday against the Houston Dynamo at 8 pm ET (FS1, TUDN in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada).