A group of players left LAFC preseason training at the end of the week.
No, they weren't cut from the team. Not leaving for international duty, either. They simply need to go back to school.
Armando Avila, Erik Dueñas, Diego Rosales, Mauricio Gutierrez, Tony Leone, and Christan Torres are all a part of the LAFC Academy. They range in ages between 14 - 16 years old. And over the past two weeks, they've been training with LAFC's first team.
Come to the LAFC Performance Center any day of the week and you'll see a large group of coaches from various levels. That's by design. Coaches from the first team collaborate on a daily basis with their Academy counterparts. Ideas are passed from the first team to the Academy and vice versa.
Knowing they'd be without six players due to international duty at the start of preseason training, the LAFC coaching staff needed suitable replacements to start preseason training and prepare for its first preseason match on Saturday against Peñarol. The first team's loss was the Academy's gain. The decision was made to select replacements from the youth ranks to start camp.
"It was really based on quality. Guys we thought were technically ready and had a good mindset. Could psychologically handle being with adults and men," Academy Director Todd Saldaña said of the players chosen to join preseason training. "But also, I think the first-team staff got to know these players and thought they could do it.
"These are six of our top guys, so [the Academy staff] felt they were ready also. But it was nice to know the endorsement came from the first-team staff."
While the six players had been observed by the LAFC coaching staff on numerous occasions with the Academy, the streamlined structure of LAFC from the first team to youth ranks was going to be put to the test. Would the players be able to step up to the highest level, even if it was just training, and would they be familiar with the finer details of how the first team works on the pitch aka Bob Bradley's football ideas?
From the moment they walked into the LAFC dressing room at the Performance Center, the six Academy players fit right in.
"I thought they were just going to stare at us and not talk to us," said Rosales of his first day in the LAFC dressing room. "Carlos Vela said what's up to us and asked us how we were doing. At that moment, I felt at home. It's like the same as the Academy, they're always welcoming."
On the pitch, training went as planned. That may not sound like a glowing endorsement but in many ways is the highest form of compliment for the six. Their ability to step up to first-team training, understand ideas and concepts, while the ball never slowed down when it came their way, is proof of concept. And it further forges the path from the Academy to LAFC's first team. A path that will hopefully be well-trodden one day.
"It's a great opportunity but at the same time, it's a huge responsibility for them," Duran said. "It's very important for them to understand that they are representing us, the coaches and all the LAFC teams from the Academy. But most importantly, when they are training, they need to show the coaches the potential that they have by trying to do the things they are used to doing. They don't need to be big-timers, they don't need to be the player. They need to be one more player in training and that will help them to develop their skills.
Of course, even after two weeks, there were still times they were reminded that they were still Academy players.
"Going up against Carlos Vela is tough," said Torres.
"It's just one skill-move and then he's gone."
News & Notes
- Here's Bob Bradley on the Academy players stint in first-team training: "We had guys come in for a day or two before. But to have guys here for an extended period was fantastic. It shows that the work that's going on in the Academy is going really well. And that the connection between the first team, our ideas and how we want to play, with [the Academy] is moving in the right direction. All of them, in terms of picking up ideas and competing in training every day, did great."
- Speaking with the media ahead of LAFC's first preseason match against Peñarol, Bradley said he expects most players to get 45 minutes at most in the match. Mark-Anthony Kaye is the only doubt for the match as he worked off to the side of training this week.
- New goalkeeper signing Kenneth Vermeer finished his first week of training with LAFC this week. He spoke with the media for the first time on Friday after training. Asked why LAFC was the right place for him, Vermeer said: "LAFC is a beautiful team. It's a beautiful Club. I saw them play last season and they were amazing. The way they play, that's the way I like to play. So, when the Club came for me, I was surprised but also happy."
- Peñarol forward Facundo Torres was in training with LAFC on Friday. Bob Bradley said the Club has a good relationship with Peñarol and it was fun to have the player in on today's session, but when asked if the Club was looking to bring the player in long-term Bradley added, "right now, it was just good to get him in training today."