Since their inception, LAFC have been competitive out of the gate, with immediate wins on the road against the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake opening eyes around MLS about their intentions of playing free-flowing, entertaining soccer and winning games— a lot of them.
And then came the record-breaking Supporters’ Shield season a year ago which brought the first silverware to the club.
This season, though, there’s been more adversity than in the past. Opponents are figuring out ways to disrupt LAFC’s fluidity in possession, there’s been injuries to key players like Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta and a year like none other, with a global pandemic and social unrest changing the daily routine.
That last part is not unique to LAFC, but it’s part of the landscape Bob Bradley discussed when talking about his team’s struggles. LAFC have lost three out of their last four games and are a pedestrian 3W-3L-3D ahead of a clash against Real Salt Lake Wednesday (9:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; on DAZN in Canada) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“This year has been up and down,” Bradley said. "We’ve had some really good games, but we’ve also had moments where on the day mistakes or moments where the intensity wasn’t high enough have hurt us.”
“We continue to try and grow as a team,” he added. "We’re not satisfied with the way things are going.”
Why the struggles in Year 3? Part of it is tactical, dealing with teams that change their way of playing when they face LAFC.
“When you look at everything that's happened in the first two-plus seasons, I think we clearly established some good ideas on how we want to play. There are many days when we can go on the field and push the game and really be a dangerous team, score goals,” Bradley said. “But we also must understand that in some games if you’re not as sharp as normal or if in some games if the game is more a battle for loose balls or long balls based upon the tactics of the opponent, we’ve got to have the ability to deal with different kind of games and still find ways to keep the things that we do well, but adapt a little bit to some of the situations, some of the second balls, some of the physical battles. Those are the things I think we need to do to keep moving to a higher level.”
And then there’s the off-field situations, like COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, that affect “the mental side for all the players” in a world vastly different than it was just a few months ago.
“We try always to find the right tone, the right words. We work very hard at it and we’re trying to keep everyone positive and very committed,” Bradley said. “We talked a little bit about strength — not just individual strength — but collective strength, the ability to help each other.
“One thing that I notice is, with everything going on, in some ways players, even on the field, are in their own little bubble, their own little world. Obviously to be a good team, everyone has to be on the same page and there’s got to be this collective strength. Those are some of the things we’ve tried to help the group with.”