Gareth Bale said Saturday he is still battling through fitness issues as he turns his attention to the World Cup after a dramatic game-saving cameo set up Los Angeles FC’s MLS Cup triumph.
The 33-year-old Wales captain once again demonstrated his habit of rising to the occasion, nodding home a 128th-minute equaliser to set up LAFC’s penalty shoot-out win.
Bale was brought on as a substitute early in extra time at the Banc of California Stadium in what was his first taste of competitive football for more than a month.
Bale, whose next game will be Wales’ World Cup opener against the United States in Qatar on November 21, admitted afterwards he was not yet 100% after a recent leg injury.
And the former Real Madrid star acknowledged that preparing for the World Cup had been a mental struggle, learning to manage the anxiety of possibly suffering an injury that would force him out of the finals in Qatar.
“I’m feeling better and better as time goes on,” Bale told reporters. “I’ve had a few setbacks, and had a slight knock a few weeks ago which kept me out for 10 days. It’s just one of those things.
“It’s been difficult mentally now leading into the World Cup. You see now there’s so many players that are dropping out and now are missing the World Cup.
“It’s been difficult mentally and I’m sure it has been for a lot of players. For sure it’s been in the back of my mind to make sure I’m 100% fit. Today I felt good enough to come on the pitch and help the team and I’m happy to see them lifting that trophy.”
Bale said he had spoken to Los Angeles coach Steve Cherundolo before the game and agreed he would be ready to play for “20-30 minutes” if needed.
“I’m not 100% fit at the moment. I’m still coming back,” he said. “I have a few little issues like most players do. But I was able to come on for the last 20-30 minutes and give as much as I can and I came up with a goal to help the team and that’s what I’m here to do I guess.”
Cherundolo added that Bale could have played in last week’s Western Conference championship game if needed.
“It’s always the plan to put him on exactly for the reason he scored his goal,” Cherundolo said. “It’s a piece that we have on our roster that Philly didn’t have. And maybe that was the difference today.”
– Difficult transition –
Bale’s headed equalizer on Saturday, which made it 3-3 to force penalties, was the latest in an impressive catalogue of goals in major finals. Bale scored in three separate Champions League finals during his spell in Real Madrid.
“It’s always nice to score in finals and I seem to have the knack of doing that,” Bale said.
Los Angeles coach Cherundolo quipped that he hopes Bale’s goalscoring touch dries up when he plays for Wales against the USA later this month.
“I’m sure he doesn’t (want me to score) but I’ll be trying to,” Bale said.
Bale joined Los Angeles FC in July, hoping to hone his match fitness ahead of the World Cup.
However he has made just two starts since signing for the club and said Saturday making the transition to MLS had been difficult.
“Obviously coming in with no pre-season, trying to catch up has been difficult,” Bale said.
“Relocating with my family. I’ve tried to keep as fit as I can, try to help the team as much as I can on and off the pitch. And it’s all worth it when you have moments like today.
“The most important thing was the target to win the MLS Cup final and we’ve managed to do that.”