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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Tristan Blackmon

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Rookie played a rotational role in debut campaign.

Los Angeles FC v Seattle Sounders Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Tristan Blackmon was Los Angeles Football Club’s second-ever MLS draft pick. With the team trading up to acquire Blackmon, who had been part of the MLS Combine process and was expected to be a draft pick, taking him at No. 3 overall was a bit of a surprise.

Said to be capable of playing at either fullback or center back, like his fellow LAFC draftee, Joao Moutinho, Blackmon ended up being a reserve right back for the black-and-gold for most of the 2018 season. While Moutinho got more of a run early on before a veteran took over the starting job at left back for good, Blackmon had to surpass Steven Beitashour, one of the most consistent two-way performers in his position in MLS, and all in all it was a bridge too far for the rookie.

Still, the Las Vegas native got some run along the way. He came off the bench in LAFC’s first four games in league play, and ended up starting five games in the league and two in the U.S. Open Cup.

Blackmon 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 10 5 492 0 0 1 1 1 0
U.S. Open Cup 2 2 180 0 0 2 1 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 12 7 672 0 0 3 2 1 0

But he could not take a bigger role away from Beitashour, who put in another strong season, and playing time at LAFC was by and large hard to come by.

LAFC then loaned Blackmon to USL team Phoenix Rising FC in mid-August, briefly recalled him, then sent back to Phoenix late in the season. While in Arizona, he played eight games, all starts, between the USL regular season and playoffs, culminating in Phoenix’s run to the title game, where they fell short to Louisville City. Blackmon started at center back in the final, a testament to the strong showings he had been putting in for Phoenix and an indication that he’s getting some reps in central defense. He drew raves from Phoenix Rising fans and media, so at the very least he appears to be at a high level at USL at the position. Whether that will be a project with an eye to eventually turn him into an MLS-level center back is something we’ll have to wait and see about.

Blackmon is under contract for the 2019 season, so expect him to be back with LAFC. Will he get more playing time? That’s hard to say. MLS is deep enough these days and competition is fierce enough that the second year is often make-or-break. If Bob Bradley is opting to train him up at center back and knows it will take time, he may get more time out on loan and more patience with the organization overall. That seems like a preferable outcome to just chucking him on the field and seeing what happens.

But at the same time, increased playing time isn’t necessarily a given next year, no matter the position. Blackmon got his sea legs in pro soccer, and he’ll have this first season to build on for the rest of his time playing at an MLS level.

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