Bob Bradley has headed soccer teams since 1981, so it’s noteworthy when the 63-year-old Hall of Fame coach suggests that his current group of players is facing a challenge even he has never been through.

Over three quarters of the 2021 season, the Los Angeles Football Club created opportunities but did not score a goal. At the same time, Bradley’s team limited their opponents’ options but found the worst possible moments to concede goals.

That combo is struggling for LAFC to rise above the playoff line with seven games remaining in the league’s 34-game season.

“You can certainly push the game and create chances and for whatever reason you don’t finish that day or the opposing goalkeeper makes some big saves,” said Bradley, “but feel like it has been like that all season ‘This is incredible.

The lack of consistent input from its most high-profile players is one of the reasons the LAFC, currently suffering from a three-game losing streak, entered the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since its 2018 debut could miss.

Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez – the three designated players of the LAFC – have each struggled through troubled seasons.

Vela has been missing too many times since straining his right quadriceps on opening day. Rossi seemed distracted by the transfer talks that finally manifested itself in his departure for Turkey last month. And while Rodriguez showed brilliant lightning bolts, he put too much effort into for a player of his skill level.

LAFC lost their only three games when the trio started side by side and stand 0-5-0 when they got all minutes in the same game.

“One of the most important jobs a coach is doing is getting the most out of his best players,” said Bradley. “That was not the case for various reasons. When you look at the opportunities that arise and the fact that we still haven’t hit at the required speed, at the speed that matches the opportunities we then create, yes, I think it’s clear I haven’t found a consistent way to get the best out of our best guys. ”

The LAFC’s best stretch ran from late May to late July when 17 out of a possible 27 points were scored while Vela – for the first time – returned from an injury and started alongside Rossi.

Their success makes sense as the pair have been the dominant threat to LAFC in the club’s first three seasons – that certainly applies to Sunday’s opponent, rival L.A. Galaxy, who conceded 16 goals from the two attackers.

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LAFC (9-12-6, 33 points) have to come on Sunday without Vela or Rossi, but even at full strength Bradley’s team remained without a win against the Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park (0-4-1), a total of seven Goals in five games.

“We have to be our strongest here,” said midfielder Eduard Atuesta, who returned to Vela after returning from an ankle injury on Wednesday. “Not just (Bob) as a coach, but we as a player.”

The third and final “El Trafico” regular season of the year comes as the Black & Gold hope to qualify for the postseason and the Galaxy (11-11-5, 38 points) fight for a playoff spot , despite having earned three points more in their last eight games, making the early evening kick-off at Carson the most important intra-city match since the LAFC won a playoff home game in 2019.

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