When Carlos Vela left Saturday’s season opener with what appeared to be an injury, it left Los Angeles FC without its two best attackers given Diego Rossi was already missing the match through injury.
That didn’t stop LAFC from going on to beat Austin FC, largely because of the contributions of newly-acquired Corey Baird and second-year youngster Kwadwo Opoku.
Baird scored his first goal for the his new club, having been acquired from Real Salt Lake in the offseason, and Opoku impressed after coming on for Vela.
“I thought (Opoku) did a really good job and continues to grow as a player,” Bradley said. “He’s a young player with some special qualities and we’re excited about the progress that he’s making.”
Opoku joined LAFC last October as the club’s first signing through a new partnership with the Attram De Visser Soccer Academy in Ghana. The 19-year-old made headlines last winter when he scored the series-winning goal to lift LAFC past Cruz Azul in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.
Opoku figured to take on a more prominent role in 2021, but given LAFC’s early-season injury concerns, Opoku’s opportunity for a larger role could come sooner than expected.
As for Baird, the former MLS Rookie of the Year showed off the qualities that led LAFC to trade for his services, with his ability to set up and score goals, as well as his versatility, giving LAFC some much-needed depth in attack.
On Thursday, head coach Bob Bradley also labeled his star duo “questionable” heading into the weekend bout against the Seattle Sounders.
“Carlos has not been in full training this week and Diego has trained, but I am not sure he is 100% quite yet,” said Bradley.
Bradley shared that there is a possibility that defender Kim Moon-Hwan will make his debut this weekend after being out with a lingering knee injury since joining from Busan IPark in the summer.
“Moon is not ready for a lot of minutes right now, we just have to decide if he is ready to give us a few minutes in a given situation,” said Bradley.
Expectations against seattle
Though LAFC is only in its third season, it has already developed a healthy rivalry with the Seattle Sounders. LAFC defeated the Sounders in 2018 for the first victory in club history, but the the Sounders have bounced LAFC from the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
“Seattle is a rival and we certainly know that when we play them both teams really get after each other in a real way so we have to be at our best,” said Bradley.
The Sounders come into the match in strong form, having defeated Minnesota United, 4-0, to open their season.
The injuries to Vela and Rossi are a concern for LAFC, but the Sounders are also dealing with an injury crisis of their own.
U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jordan Morris is out for the foreseeable future after tearing his ACL on loan at Swansea City, and star playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro is doubtful for Saturday because of a left-quad strain that held him out of the opener against the Loons.
“He’s running around the field, but he’s probably not going to make it on the charter tomorrow,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said Thursday.
Atuesta extension close:
The future of Eduard Atuesta was a large question mark coming into the season, but the Colombian midfielder is reportedly on the verge of extending his contract with the Black and Gold.
“I believe they are close or have finalized an extension to his contract,” Bradley told reporters on Thursday.
Signing Atuesta to a new deal would be a major victory given how important he is to LAFC’s success, and especially given the reported interest in his services from clubs in South America.
“With guys like Edward and Diego they know that that we’re committed to helping them at the right time move on because that’s their goal,” Bradley said. “But in order to do that, every day they have to continue to push themselves and find ways that they can grow as players.”
Atuesta, 23, initially joined LAFC on loan from Independiente Medellín in 2018 and since arriving in Los Angeles he has evolved into one of the best midfielders in the league.
“Eduard loves playing here,” Bradley said. “And obviously, he’s an important player and we really enjoy how we work with him every day.”