Bob Bradley feels that consistency, or rather a lack thereof, did LAFC in during the 2020 season.
Taking a moment to reflect after a 3-1 loss Tuesday night at the Seattle Sounders, a rematch of their 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs exit, the head coach explained how they simply haven’t been at their best often enough in key moments.
“I said it at the beginning, that the number one thing this year is that I think we haven’t been consistent enough," Bradley said after the Western Conference Round One game. "We’ve had moments when I think we’ve played good football, but we still have hurt ourselves with not always finishing advantages in the best way. We’ve hurt ourselves giving up certain kinds of goals, second-phase set-piece goals hurt us this year and then some other moments just were some defensive errors.
“But it goes together, it’s all part of a package when you step onto the field in terms of how you play and in certain moments decisions on the ball. Is it the right time to go forward, is it the right time to control the game? So for me, the work to become a more consistent team, that’s the key.”
Highlights: Seattle Sounders 3, LAFC 1
Compared to last year, when LAFC set a single-season points record (72) and were led by Carlos Vela (then 34g, 15a in 31 games) earning Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors, this was a step back. The Black & Gold dropped to seventh place in the West, allowed nearly two goals per game (1.77) and struggled with injuries.
Look no further than Vela, who featured in just seven regular-season games (MCL sprain, opt out of MLS is Back Tournament) and missed a penalty kick in the 21st minute. Down 1-0 at the time, it could’ve swayed momentum away from Seattle. Instead, Stefan Frei instead easily grasped the poorly-placed shot.
“Carlos was angry with himself, even at halftime he was committed to the second half, committed to getting a goal so that we could get back into the game,” Bradley said. “He’s a competitor and he’s come through on many nights for us. I know he was disappointed with that opportunity in the first half, something that for him is normally automatic.”
It’s also worth highlighting that LAFC missed four key players against Seattle, including two Designated Players, while Seattle saw Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz – two of the club’s three DPs – all score. After the November international window and COVID-19 positive cases, LAFC didn’t have available forwards Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, as well as midfielder Jose Cifuentes and left back Diego Palacios. Rossi might have had the biggest impact, since he won this year’s Golden Boot presented by Audi and was named the AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year.
EIGHT REMAIN.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 25, 2020
Just like everyone predicted, right? pic.twitter.com/oof5Nkz4By
The 2020 season threw a lot of muck at LAFC, but Bradley didn’t want to look for a scapegoat either.
“Maybe this year, that work was a little bit more difficult, but that’s no excuse,” Bradley said. “[It’s] difficult because when you miss portions of the season in the start-stop periods, in other moments then there’s a lot of games and you don’t get the normal training time. But when all was said and done, I take the responsibility that the development of our team, the improvement of our team, the ability to get to the next level, I thought in different moments maybe we were close. But so far, when you look at everything this year, you can say we didn’t get to the next level, which was to go far in MLS Playoffs, we wanted to defend the Supporters’ Shield and, look, we still have Champions League to play for.”
As Bradley noted, LAFC still have a Concacaf Champions League game to prepare for. They’re poised to encounter Liga MX side Cruz Azul in a single-elimination game in mid-December at Exploria Stadium, home of Orlando City SC. Their quarterfinal series never got underway back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days, so the regional test awaits nine months later.
It gives LAFC another project to focus on, even if a second straight playoff exit at the hands of Seattle stings.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, we want to win every game,” midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said. “So whenever we don’t win we feel disappointed, so obviously the mood is not very high right now, which is normal. But we do have Champions League in three weeks, so we do have to think about this game, try to improve from it, move past it and get ready for our next challenge. It’s not fun right now, but we have something to look forward to."