ONE MORE THING TO STAY ON TOP OF
2020 has been a season like no other, and as LAFC head coach Bob Bradley has tried to keep his squad focused amidst a global pandemic and the ongoing social justice movement, a new crisis has emerged.
The devastating wildfires that have ravaged much of the West Coast have left the Los Angeles area shrouded in unhealthy air quality, especially around the LAFC Performance Center on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, LAFC moved their training to Banc of California Stadium, where the air quality was slightly healthier.
“We’ve been managing on a day-to-day basis and dealing with the air quality,” Bradley said. “We’re lucky we have been able to move to the stadium when the air quality has been particularly bad around the facility. This is just one more thing we need to stay on top of during a crazy period.”
As with so much of what 2020 has thrown at the team, Bradley is using this as another moment to remind everyone that there are things that are bigger than football.
“The main concern in these moments is to have a bigger perspective than just what is going on with the team,” Bradley said. “You see what is going on with the incredible firefighters and with the families or are directly faced with these dangerous fires, so we are thinking of everybody that is in dealing with this.”
2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela continues to recover from the knee injury he suffered against the Galaxy on Aug. 22. The record-breaking goalscorer is currently doing light jogging on the field and working with the Black & Gold training staff on exercises to strengthen the knee. Bradley does not expect to have the mercurial Vela available for a game in the near future.
“It just takes time,” Bradley said. “He is still certainly weeks away, because at the moment he is just working out individually.”
LAFC continues to adjust to playing without Vela, who led MLS in goals just a year ago.
“It was a tough blow,” 2019 MLS Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta said. “It was difficult for us to recover because Carlos is our leader.”
GROWING ON THE JOB
Pablo Sisniega has maintained the starting goalkeeper position for the Black & Gold for the last four matches, going 2-2 and allowing 9 goals. The 25-year-old continues to show encouraging signs and each game develops a little bit more.
“Pablo is still growing on the job,” Bradley said. “He is improving and we continue to try and work on those details.”
The details Bradley is referring to are the subtle errors that Sisniega can still make – and for a goalkeeper, one misstep can prove costly.
Against Portland on Sunday, Sisniega was caught out on the first Timbers goal by Eryk Williamson in the 25th minute when he took just a few too many steps out of the goal, and got caught too far in between the net and Williamson.
“Pablo was a little too anxious, and took a few steps out and that cost him,” Bradley said. “Had he positioned himself and then set his feet as the ball got played and then been ready to back up, I’m certain it’s a play that he would have made.”
What Bradley liked even more was the way Sisniega bounced back from giving up the early goal – coming up with some big stops in the second half, including a massive punch on a dangerous situation early in the second half.
“We always remind goalkeepers that if somehow in the first half you allowed a play to get away from you,” Bradley said. “There is going to be a moment in the second half where you are going to be called on and you have got to be ready.”
LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta returned to action on Sunday against Portland, playing the final 10 minutes and making an immediate impact – helping to jumpstart the final LAFC goal on a brilliant dribble and pass scenario.
Atuesta had not played in a match since July 31 when he suffered a foot injury in the final moments of LAFC’s defeat to Orlando City in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
While still missing Carlos Vela to injury, the Black & Gold was ecstatic to have their midfield engine back in the center of the pitch. Bradley does not expect Atuesta to be ready to start on Friday in Seattle, but Atuesta will continue to ease his way back to full match fitness.
“It was so important to get Eduard back,” LAFC midfielder Mark Anthony Kaye said. “He is a key focal point to how we play. Anytime you can get a player back like that, the guys around him just feed off of him, including myself.”
Atuesta missed just two games in 2019, when he emerged as one of the top midfielders in the league.
“It was really good to get him on the field,” Bradley said.
For his part, the 23-year-old Colombian is beginning to finally feel like his old self on the pitch.
“I am thankful to our training staff for helping me return to the field as quickly as possible,” Atuesta said. “As the minutes went on, I started getting my confidence back and I think I’m 100% again. I feel great physically, but that is sometimes the mistake players make when coming back from injury, I know I need to take things slowly and start getting more minutes in order for my body to get used to playing the full 90 minutes.”