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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Marco Ureña

Tico helps LAFC to strong start before falling down pecking order.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The phenomenon of the non-scoring forward is a fascinating one. Strikers are meant to score goals — that is, of course, their primary job. But sometimes, there are strikers who can’t score very much, and yet they hang onto their place far longer than many expect.

How do they do that? Sometimes, the team they are on just doesn’t have anyone else. But non-scoring forwards often find a place in the lineup through the “little things,” which can include wearing out opposing defenders, doing good defense from the front themselves, setting up teammates and being a hard worker and team player.

That description fit Marco Ureña to a T. The Costa Rican, who had come off a decent season with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2017, was selected by Los Angeles Football Club in the Expansion Draft. With the Quakes, he had scored five goals and three assists, so the expectations with LAFC were relatively modest in terms of production — I had set a personal over/under on goals for him at five for the season.

In the opening weeks, Ureña fit very well in LAFC’s attack. A tireless worker who was adept at setting up teammates, LAFC’s offense was suited to him, with three other forwards — two wide, one withdrawn — and at least one midfielder, plus at times a fullback all expected to pitch in on goals. And his chemistry with Carlos Vela was instant, and I think you can give Ureña credit in helping to get an expansion team running right out of the gate.

Still, that main role of a striker, goals, was hard to come by for Ureña, very hard. After a series of near-misses and tame shots at the goalkeeper in the opening weeks, he was given a chance to get off the mark with a penalty attempt against the Montreal Impact, which was duly saved.

In fact, he didn’t score in a competitive game for LAFC until the summer, in the U.S. Open Cup, after returning from the World Cup. He added a solitary goal in league play for the season. This, after leading LAFC in scoring in the preseason, by a significant margin, too.

Ureña LAFC 2018 statistics

2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 18 11 1,015 1 5 28 12 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 1 1 68 1 0 2 2 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 19 12 1,083 2 5 30 14 0 0

A couple things changed Ureña’s 2018 season with LAFC. First, he suffered a facial fracture after taking an elbow to the face in the home opener in late April. That injury, which required surgery, sidelined him for a while and he lost some momentum going into the World Cup. Then, the World Cup itself wasn’t a great success, personally or for Costa Rica, who could not replicate their quarterfinal run from 2014.

Then, the tide really turned when, upon his return, Adama Diomande had emerged as LAFC’s top striker option. Diomande doesn’t have the same game as Ureña, exactly — Diomande has a selfish nature that is necessary in scoring forwards, so he doesn’t set up teammates as much — but Diomande had some of the same qualities plus he could put the ball in the back of the net.

By the time LAFC traded for Christian Ramirez to further add scoring to their central forward corps, the writing was on the wall for Ureña. He got a few starts along the way in the final months, but at a certain point, Bob Bradley opted to go with Diomande, when healthy, and Ureña was a bench option the rest of the way.

So it’s no surprise that LAFC didn’t pick up Ureña’s option for 2019. He could go in Wednesday’s waiver draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another MLS team picks him. He’s probably never going to score a bunch of goals, but he can do a job in other ways on quite a few teams. It was a good run, but it also makes sense as to why LAFC look set to move on from him.

Let’s take a moment to remember his league goal, a nice finish and one that shows the relief on his face when he gets it into the net.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!