As the first week of LAFC's 2020 preseason continues, there has been a lot of familiar faces around the Performance Center and quite a few new ones as well. But one of the hot topics of conversation has been the players we haven't seen this week.
Six players currently on LAFC's roster have not joined the team for the start of preseason training. Five of those six players are in South America to take part in an important qualifying tournament - Walker Zimmerman is away at U.S. men's national team camp.
Colombia is the site of the CONMEBOL Olympic Qualifying tournament beginning on Jan. 18. The continental tournament features the U23 teams from 10 South American countries. The top two will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics this Summer.
"From the beginning, we’ve always tried to find good young talent. I think anyone who has watched us play knows that with Diego [Rossi], Eduard [Atuesta], Eddie [Segura], and others, those guys have been really good for us. Therefore, it’s special when they get the chance to play for their U23 teams and to be a part of the Olympic qualifying in South America," Bob Bradley said after LAFC's first preseason training session. "So, we’ll miss some guys. But we know that this is important in their careers. And it’s something that we fully support."
Five players, representing three countries, will be away from the Black & Gold as it prepares for its Feb. 18 Concacaf Champions League opener against Léon of Liga MX:
Diego Rossi, Francisco Ginella - Uruguay
Eduard Atuesta, Eddie Segura - Colombia
José Cifuentes - Ecuador
Qualifying Tournament Groups:
|Group A||Group B|
For all five players, the tournament is a great opportunity and honor to lead their country to a possible spot in the Olympics. But while Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, and Eddie Segura have taken part in past LAFC preseasons, new signings José Cifuentes and Francisco Ginella will miss a big chunk of their first preseason camp with the Black & Gold.
For most teams, that might be a major concern. But for LAFC, it comes with the territory.
"That is the cost to this benefit that we have in having a talented group of players. This tournament doesn’t come at an ideal time but that’s not an excuse for us," LAFC EVP & GM John Thorrington said at training on Tuesday. "We are always supportive of our players pursuing their international ambitions. We know how important that is for players and their careers."
The qualifying tournament's group stage runs from Jan. 18 - 31. Each team is guaranteed at least three matches. At the end of the group stage, the top two teams in each group progress to the semifinals. The final will be held on Feb. 9.
With those dates in mind, the earliest any of the five LAFC players would return to join their teammates in preseason training is the first week of February. But they could also be away from Los Angeles until just the week before LAFC's match in Léon, depending on how far they progress in the tournament.
"For the guys that are away, we always hope that there is really good training. Good matches with good results," Bradley. "And when we get them back here, it’s just a matter of sizing up how they feel, where they are physically and mentally. But the fact that they know the routine makes it all easier. Because then when they get here, stepping into training and understanding what we want on the field, those things are almost second nature to them."
As the squad works to be ready in Los Angeles, they know their teammates have a huge opportunity in front of them in Colombia. It will be a challenge to integrate the five that are away so close to the first competitive match of the season but it's something LAFC is confident won't hamper its chances.
"We see both sides. We will be without these five. It’s not ideal but at the same time they’ll be game ready and they’ll be ready to go," Thorrington said.
"I have no doubt that Bob and his staff will have these guys ready and raring to go come Léon."