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What role will Andre Horta have for LAFC in the playoffs?

The Designated Player remains very much an enigma in MLS.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Horta is the mystery man of Los Angeles Football Club. The Portuguese midfielder arrived to great fanfare, after having to complete his Primeira Liga season on loan with Braga in the summer. And given the success of LAFC’s first two Designated Players, Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, plus Horta’s accomplishments in his native country, it seemed he was destined to hit the ground running.

Except that hasn’t happened at all. It’s no secret Horta has struggled to adjust to MLS play, and it’s cost him a starting spot as a result. Since arriving in July, he’s played 11 games in league play, but only started three times. When the lineup was announced on Sunday for LAFC’s regular-season finale against Sporting Kansas City, Horta was listed as a sub, and that was entirely expected. He came off the bench, with a flicker of hope that he could change the game for LAFC, entering a minute after Sporting took a 2-1 lead despite being down a man.

But the performance was in line with what he’s done to date for LAFC. Shortly after checking in, Horta sent a looooooooooooooong pass upfield, trying to thread it between defenders up to the striker up top, and it nearly made it. But a Sporting defender was on hand to intercept, and a promising attack died.

Horta has shown with his passing that he has the potential to unlock games. He just hasn’t done it yet, or has done it for the other team, as his infamous MLS debut against the LA Galaxy showed.

He’s also struggled to hold onto the ball in midfield, something he’s been punished time and again by opponents who find him surprisingly turnover-prone. When it comes to a midfield like LAFC’s, where a purely defensive midfielder isn’t even fielded to shield the defense for turnovers in the midfield, Horta’s inability to keep possession is a liability.

Horta drew the postgame press conference assignment after his first league start, LAFC’s first home loss, in August against the same Sporting side. He seemed a bit frustrated and bewildered, albeit coming in the minutes after a loss:

Is it time to call Horta a bust? He hasn’t adjusted, so he never will? Of course not. I think it’s obvious that LAFC expected he would contribute more quickly than he has, and at this point, he’s not a key contributor.

But there have been cases of players coming in and needing a longer runway to get used to MLS. A good recent example of this is Portland Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco. He had a few good moments in his first season, last year, but was by and large a disappointment considering the expectations he brought in. This season, however, he’s taken on more of the mantle of a primary attacking outlet for Portland, and has helped Diego Valeri ride the post-MVP regression to the mean.

And Horta has had a good game, when he started as LAFC beat Toronto FC 4-2 at the beginning of September. He wasn’t the star of the game, but he put in a good hourlong shift, providing a base for Vela in particular to shine. The issue is that it was the most notable positive outing for Horta to date. Yes, the sample size is small, just 11 league games, most off the bench, but a DP is counted on to put in a good shift more often than that.

So where does that leave Horta for the playoffs? Obviously, we don’t know what Bob Bradley is planning, perhaps Horta is a wild card he’s prepared to play, starting on Thursday when LAFC host Real Salt Lake in the Knockout Round. But it seems likely that Horta is probably fifth on the depth chart in midfield right now, and will come in off the bench, if he comes in at all.

From there, can he find the inspiration to show the kind of play that resulted in him being a budding star in Portugal, signed by giants Benfica? Can he take over games and offer a smart, skillful two-way game for the black-and-gold? Most likely LAFC will have to wait until 2019 to see if Horta can put it together stateside. But on the chance he can find form in the playoffs, he could turn out to be the x-factor that opponents won’t expect, and could possibly even help LAFC make a deep run in the playoffs.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!