A thing happened at LAFC training the other day. It was only a moment, but everybody inside the LAFC Performance Center and on the pitch stopped to acknowledge it. And in a lot of ways, it's was exactly what Bob Bradley and his team have been building to.
I'll do my best to describe it.
In an exercise, Bradley had the squad split into two teams of nine. No goals. No goalkeepers. Just two teams of nine in one sliver of the field, one in red and one in grey, trying to work the ball into a small "end zone" area at the end of the oppositions half.
The grey team worked the ball across the back and into the middle of the pitch. Carlos Vela got on the ball and had a quick exchange with Diego Rossi near the touchline on the left side. Playing a pass back to Vela, Rossi went on the move, cutting up and inwards. Vela returned the ball to Rossi with a defender in close pursuit. While this was happening, Christian Ramirez released from the center, splitting the opposition's center backs. In stride, Rossi curled a pass with the outside of his boot around the nearest defender, then just out of the reach of the closest center back, and into the path of Ramirez before the striker strayed offside.
Hugging the grass and at a perfect weight and speed, you couldn't have rolled the pass any better with your hands. And as Ramirez gathered the ball to score a point for the grey team, training stopped for just a second.
If I didn't do the pass justice, maybe describing the scene afterward will give you more context. John Thorrington came out of his office to ask someone if they'd seen the pass. He wasn't so much in disbelief, as he was in need of someone to share the moment with. Staff members looked at each other as if to confirm they all saw the same thing. Coaches and players on the pitch clapped the move and complimented Rossi. Bradley extended both hands into the air and let out a roar.
"In terms of ideas, in terms of thinking fast, playing forward, and moving, when you make something that looks like good football, everybody should enjoy it," Bradley said when asked about the play after training the next day.
"That was not just the pass from Diego, that was the whole play that started from the move around the back. And there was a little bit of an inside exchange, it went to Carlos and then back to Diego, and finally, that pass from Diego to Christian."
That type of synergy is something Bradley has stressed all season long. And with his team entering the last few matches of the season, Bradley admits seeing movements like that leading up to a crucial time in the Club's inaugural season are satisfying.
But while it was a moment that happened in training, where few people are privy, you don't have to look hard to see where those types of ideas are paying off in public view.
Take both of Adama Diomande's goals in the match against Colorado this past weekend. Each goal isn't just the product of the striker's finish. It's about recognition and reaction, which Bradley has instilled in his side from the moment they took the training ground in preseason. So when Lee Nguyen recognizes the trouble a Rapids midfielder has gotten in with his first touch, he releases and steps up to win the ball. Seeing the space in front of him, he has that voice from training in the back of his head urging him to attack, and so does Diomande, who releases behind the defense so Nguyen can play a ball right into the space behind the defense. A left-footed shot over Tim Howard's shoulder, and the rest is history.
Same for Diomande's second. Aaron Kovar slides into a pocket of space as Benny Feilhaber looks up. Receiving the ball with the defender on his shoulder, Kovar rolls the opposite direction and recognizes the space behind the Colorado backline. Already, Diomande is on the run. Kovar plays the space. And it's 3-0 to LAFC.
Despite the two goals and the pass in training being separate instances, in a sense, these moments are all one. They're the culmination of countless hours working the concepts and ideas of Bradley's style of play. But the moments are also indicative of something even simpler in the end: good soccer is something to savor.
"I tell these guys every day that we’re always trying to play good football, do things that look like football," Bradley said.
"So that was a moment where we were all excited."
News & Notes
- Danilo Silva has been in training this week with a bandage over his right eye and a nice shiner. The center back had to be substituted in the 59th minute against Colorado after a clash of heads left him bloodied. But other than a couple of stitches, Silva isn't any worse for wear and has been training fully with his teammates this week.
- Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey had some playful banter for me after practice on Wednesday saying I didn't give the backline any love in my takeaways after the win over the Rapids. They've got a point. LAFC's 3-0 win was the 10th shutout of the season for the Club. Only three other teams in MLS have more.
- Luis López has been away from training after his call-up by Honduras for a friendly with the United Arab Emirates in Spain. Also away on international duty is midfielder André Horta. He joined the U21 Portugal National Team. They play Liechtenstein on Thursday in a Group H qualifier for the U21 European Championship.