For over three months, Bob Bradley's team has been apart. But never totally alone.
They stayed in contact through group workouts via video calls, social media, and even good old-fashioned phone calls. With the guidance of MLS and local health officials, players eventually returned to the pitch. First, with individual workouts. And later, through small-group workouts. Still, three months of modified interaction and training is a long time.
So, when the team finally returned to full training at the LAFC Performance Center, it didn't take much for Bradley to motivate his players.
"Our No. 1 message is to take advantage of every day, come in with a good mentality, enjoy seeing your teammates, and be ready to work in training, " Bradley said from the team's training facility. "When you’re away from it for a few months, it’s not a hard message to get across because guys are so excited to be back.
"We love being back in full training. Obviously, we’re so lucky with the situation here at the Performance Center. When guys aren’t around, they miss the camaraderie. They miss the training. So, that part is something everybody is enjoying once again."
Bradley is preparing his team for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando starting on July 8. After being drawn into a group with the Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers, and Galaxy last month, LAFC got the full details of its schedule this week. The Black & Gold will kick off its tournament on July 13 (5 pm PT on FS1, ESPN Radio app & KFWB 980) against the Dynamo.
The team is expected to enter the MLS mandated "bubble" in Orlando a week before its first match. Until then, the job is getting prepared physically and mentally to compete again.
"I’m been really pleased with the way we’ve gotten back into training. The foundation of our football ideas has been built over the first few seasons. So, re-establishing those ideas actually is something that everybody enjoys and comes pretty easily," Bradley said. "But the fitness and the sharpness just comes from pushing in training every day. We’re in the midst of trying to make sure that the level just keeps getting higher and higher."
Raising the level and peaking at the right time will be key to success in a tournament setting. It's the 10-year anniversary of the Bradley-led U.S. Men's National Team's thrilling victory in the waning moments of its final World Cup group-stage match and into the knockout phase. While comparing the World Cup to the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando would be specious at best - the World Cup requires teams to go through a grueling two-year qualifying cycle, is the biggest event in the world, and features the likes of players named Messi, Pogba, etc. - but at its core, both tournaments are similar: group-stage play followed by a knockout phase.
So, how does that change the mindset going into the restart in play?
"The main focus is just to understand group play," Bradley said. "Group play is about three matches. The understanding of how to get better from game to game and do whatever it takes to move on and get to the knockout phase. Since all those group matches count for the regular season standings, we’ve got to also focus on getting maximum points so we can put ourselves in a good position as we continue with the season following the tournament in Orlando."
News & Notes
- New LAFC signing Andy Najar participated in full training with his new teammates for the first time. Najar joins LAFC as his contract with Belgian giants Anderlecht expires at the end of this month. The defender had been doing a rehab stint with LAFC at the start of the season and is now fully fit and able to take part in full training.
- Also back in full training are Bradley Wright-Phillips and Adama Diomande. Wright-Phillips entered the season rehabbing an injury that required surgery to correct. Before the suspension of the MLS season, the striker was taking part in sections of training but is now fully fit. Diomande suffered a broken foot in a preseason match with NYCFC, missing the first two regular-season matches. Diomande is also back in full training and available for the Orlando tournament.
- Part 2 of Bob Bradley's "Between Two Coaches" conversation with FC Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch was released this week. The two coaches do a deep dive into tactics and give detailed explanations of their philosophies on pressing, counterpressing, and more.