Things are finally starting to get back to normal around here.
After spending the last week and a half with just 17 players on the training pitch - three of which were goalkeepers, might I add - LAFC is getting its full squad back.
Thanks to the FIFA International Window and an injury to Carlos Vela, the Black & Gold traveled to the other side of the country and faced Orlando City with a severely rotated squad. While they managed just a point in Orlando, the eye test of the team that took the pitch was convincing.
Facing a side at home and needing a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, Bob Bradley's team varied its shape with the players on hand but compromised little by way of its football ideas. LAFC used the ball and central areas to create advantages for its attacking players. They were on the front foot for large spells in the match. And despite conceded two goals in quick succession after taking an early lead, the Black & Gold faced adversity head-on to rescue a point. The only real disappointment considering the circumstances was that the winning goal was there for the taking and LAFC just couldn't manage to provide the knockout blow.
"We did a good job of pushing the game in the second half," Bradley said after the Orlando match. "When we got to 2-2, I thought had we been able to stay a little bit sharper, the third goal was there for us."
After the Orlando match, LAFC elected to stay on the East Coast for the proceeding match against the Philadelphia Union. The team that faced Orlando arrived in Philly ahead of the week, while reinforcements began to join them as early as Monday.
Vela met up with his teammates in Philadelphia on Monday night. He rejoined the group in training on Tuesday. His status for the match on Saturday is still up in the air. But having done individual work the two weeks, his inclusion with the group in training points toward the likelihood he takes part against the Union.
Just behind Vela, the players away on international duty arrived in waves. Eduard Atuesta returned from captaining Colombia's U23s, followed by Walker Zimmerman, Brian Rodríguez, Peter-Lee Vassell, Diego Palacios, Fito Zelaya, and Mark-Anthony Kaye.
"We still have to size up how everybody is doing," Bradley said when asked if those away on international duty would feature on Saturday. "When they get back, we look at their training loads, we look at what they did in the games, and factor it in with everything that is going on here. So, still some decisions to make."
Heading into the match with the Union, LAFC is without a win in three matches - its longest run without a win in 2019. On Wednesday night, the Black & Gold and its Supporters briefly celebrated the clinching of the regular-season Western Conference title by way of Minnesota's loss to the Dynamo. The conference's top spot secures home-field advantage in the playoffs and a place in next season's Concacaf Champions League. It's an important moment in the Club's history as another first and memorable for all those reasons.
But you can't put your arms around a memory. Which is why things won't be totally back to normal until LAFC get back to winning ways and, more importantly, closer to lifting the Supporters' Shield - trophies are the type of tactile memories the Club and Supporters crave.
"We know that after Philadelphia beat Atlanta two weeks ago, they started talking about the big game coming up with LAFC. A lot has been said and we don't typically go crazy with bulletin-board material but I think it says a lot," Bradley said. "It's going to be a really good game. We're hearing it's a sellout.
"At the end of the year, we want to finish as strong as we can. So, a really important game against a good team."
News & Notes
- LAFC has an outside chance of winning the Supporters' Shield this weekend. First, the Black & Gold need a win in Philadelphia. If LAFC win AND NYCFC lose AND Atlanta United drops points via a draw or loss, LAFC will be crowned as the best team over the course of the MLS regular season in 2019.
- All seven of LAFC's internationals returned to training having featured in 11 matches during this international window. Brian Rodríguez scored his first senior-level goal for Uruguay in just his second cap for the team. Peter-Lee Vassell also chipped in a goal for Jamaica.
- In addition to securing home-field advantage and a place in the CCL next season, LAFC's clinching of the Western Conference also results in a first-round bye in the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. LAFC will be off when the playoffs begin on Oct. 19-20 and will join the action in the Conference Semifinals on Oct. 23-24.