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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Joao Moutinho

Top draft pick had ups and downs in rookie campaign.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When you happen to share a name with perhaps Portugal’s best soccer player in recent years not named “Cristiano Ronaldo,” you may look elsewhere to kick off your own soccer career. That’s just what happened with Joao Moutinho, a native of Lisbon who was Los Angeles Football Club’s first-ever MLS draft pick.

Moutinho the younger had gone through Sporting Club’s famed academy, but moved stateside in 2017 to play NCAA soccer at the University of Akron. After just one season with the Zips, he signed a Generation Adidas deal and made the jump to the pro ranks.

The history of the MLS draft in general, and the No. 1 overall pick in particular, is checkered, and being a 19-year-old selected as the first draft pick by a new team trying to make a splash is a lot of pressure. How did Moutinho do in those circumstances?

It started off reasonably well. Moutinho scored in the preseason against Sacramento, and seemed to try out both left back and center back. When the regular season rolled around, he was firmly a left back for the black-and-gold. And he earned Bob Bradley’s trust right away, as he started the first four games, ahead of veteran Jordan Harvey.

The end of that fourth game was bumpy, however, as Moutinho, with LAFC losing 3-0 at Atlanta United, picked up successive yellow cards in the 90th and 92nd minutes to get his marching orders. Atlanta ended up posting a 5-0 rout of LAFC. It was symbolic of the game, where LAFC struggled hard, and while he didn’t get into a fight or isn’t to blame for the loss, it showed a momentary lack of composure and was kind of a “rookie moment.”

From there, Moutinho didn’t play as regularly, and aside from a two-month stint from May to July where he played in most games, he really didn’t play much the rest of the season. Harvey took over as starter and again, aside from the stretch in the summer, Moutinho was a reserve the remainder of the season.

Moutinho 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 14 10 872 1 0 7 1 2 1
U.S. Open Cup 1 1 90 0 0 0 0 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 15 11 962 1 0 7 1 2 1

All in all, Harvey was the better option for 2018 than Moutinho, who was facing a learning curve at the professional level. I don’t think the rookie was miles off being a regular starter, but he had growing pains and just needs time to develop. That’s part of the Generation Adidas program — MLS doesn’t expect underclassmen in the program to be immediate stars. But they do expect the players will blossom into, if not MLS stars, then good MLS players, a few years down the line.

And it’s worth noting that Moutinho is only 20 and absolutely needs to add muscle and bulk to his frame. He’s listed as 6-foot and 156 pounds, which even in a sport like soccer where you can be slender, is really skinny. He reminds me of Zarek Valentin, who was also a Generation Adidas draft pick, a fullback who played a lot his rookie season when he was 19, but often looked like a boy among men in terms of dealing with physical play. Valentin is now 27, and while he’s listed at a near identical 5-foot-11 and 156 pounds, his body has matured and he’s put on muscle, while still staying slim and not losing the ability to bomb up and down the field.

So some of it is Moutinho needing to do gym work in addition to working on his game, and frankly keep growing up. He seems totally mature from a personality standpoint, and he needs his physique to catch up. It will take time.

Moutinho will be back in 2019, as he’s on a multi-year deal and will still be Generation Adidas next year, one of the most valuable roster designations for a high-spending team. Harvey could return, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Moutinho is given more run next season.

Let’s close on the definite highlight of Moutinho’s season, when he scored his first competitive goal, the dramatic late, late, late winner for LAFC against the San Jose Earthquakes in NorCal. It was an impressive finish, too.

There’s just something about Moutinho scoring in Northern California, I guess. Let’s make a note of that for the games up there next year.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!