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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Eduard Atuesta

Colombian youngster slotted into MLS right away.

MLS: FC Dallas at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Eduard Atuesta joined Los Angeles Football Club on loan for the 2018 season from Independiente Medellin. 20 years old when he was brought in by the MLS side, he came with the pedigree of having been captain for Colombia’s U-20 Championship side, possibly the best youth tournament in the world. That experience doesn’t always turn into a superstar pro career, but it’s often a good omen for good things to come.

And Atuesta was a key figure for LAFC throughout the season. After getting adjusted to life in California, he became a regular for Bob Bradley, starting the majority of the games he played but also coming off the bench a solid number of times to show his ability to help lock down a result. All in all, it was an impressive bit of scouting by LAFC to find a promising player, get him on loan to start, and find success right away.

Perhaps most impressive is just how much Atuesta played in his debut season. With LAFC’s midfield a real conundrum coming in, it was unclear how Bradley would set up given the personnel. In the end, he played three midfielders, none of them serving as a true defensive mid. And of the midfielders who did play, Atuesta was by far the most defensive-minded, although on most teams he would be cast a box-to-box midfielder, which he was for LAFC, too.

Then, take into account the other contenders to play in midfield: Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen, and Andre Horta seemed like on paper they would be the starters. Horta endured a rough first season after arriving in the summer. Mark-Anthony Kaye emerged as a vital midfielder after playing well in USL. Even Aaron Kovar got some run in the season.

While Feilhaber and Nguyen turned out to be close to ever-present in the lineup, Kaye and Atuesta mostly locked down the third midfield spot, and after Kaye went down with a season-ending injury in July, that and Horta’s lack of acclimation to MLS gave Atuesta the opportunity to continue playing regularly. And it’s not just a numbers game — Atuesta looked assured most of the time in MLS. His youthful mistakes were at a premium, and he seemed to fit in MLS pretty much throughout his debut season here.

Atuesta 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 25 16 1,501 1 2 19 4 5 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 287 0 1 3 0 0 0
MLS Playoffs 1 0 17 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 29 19 1,805 1 3 22 4 5 0

As a sign that his work didn’t go unnoticed, Atuesta was ranked No. 16 in the 2018 MLS “22 Under 22” list, recognizing the best young players in the league.

He explained his background and how he got to where he is in a video produced by the team earlier this year.

And we know Atuesta is set to stick around with the black-and-gold, after they picked up the purchase option on his loan from DIM and signed him to a new three-year contract. I think there will be fierce competition in midfield again for LAFC in 2019, but I think in bringing back Kaye and Atuesta, alongside Nguyen and Horta, there’s already a good base for the upcoming season and one expects the younger players to keep getting better.

So it was a good first season in MLS for Eduard Atuesta. Can he build on this debut campaign to become an elite midfielder in this league? It’s not a certainty, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he develops into an All-Star/Best XI-caliber player in the next couple years, if he keeps working hard to improve his game.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!