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Breaking down Joao Moutinho’s rookie struggles

The first overall pick in 2018 has had some growing pains for LAFC.

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

Joao Moutinho, Los Angeles Football Club’s first-ever and first overall draft pick out of the University of Akron, has had a rough couple of games in the start of the expansion club’s first season in Major League Soccer.

The defender, in Bob Bradley’s system, has clearly had some growing pains in the back line, finding himself on the wrong end of multiple goals for the opposition, both against the LA Galaxy and against Atlanta United.

Against the LA Galaxy, Moutinho played at left back, next to Laurent Ciman in the center of the defense. He had a good, last-minute intervention to save a goal that would have been headed in by Ola Kamara, and played decent in the first half, like it seemed that all of LAFC did. However, on the Galaxy’s second goal, from Chris Pontius, Moutinho just gets beat. He seems to be in position for the ball, but perhaps too casually, as Pontius gets right behind him and launches into the ball. That makes the game 3-2, right as Zlatan Ibrahimovic enters the match.

Against Atlanta United, Moutinho again was left back, with Walker Zimmerman returning to partner with Laurent Ciman. In the 17th minute, Moutinho was playing far too centrally in the box, completely focused on the run of Josef Martinez. This allowed Julian Gressel to have acres of space on the right half of the field. He then got the ball within the six-yard box for an easy tap-in.

Later in the match, Gressel claimed Moutinho as his victim yet again. Kevin Kratz lifted a ball down on Atlanta’s right side of the pitch, where Gressel was able to take the ball in stride, yards ahead of Moutinho. Moutinho was playing too far up on the pitch on his flank, and was beat by the pass and the dribble. Gressel had plenty of time and space to get down the field and get a cross in to Josef Martinez (who was left wide open by Zimmerman), who headed it home to make the match 2-0.

Unfortunately for the rookie, the night only got worse: he earned a yellow card in the 90th minute, and got another in the 92nd after a free kick deflected off his arm in the box to get sent off, as well as concede a penalty for his team. That made the match 4-0, and left the team with 10 men against Atlanta with five more minutes of stoppage time.

Moutinho, although a rookie at the ripe age of 20, has had a tough couple of games after a promising debut. The bad news is that there is work to be done on his defensive awareness and positioning. He has played too far up the pitch, too centrally, and not aggressive enough at times. He has been a part of three preventable goals (four if you count the conceded penalty as *his fault*) against LAFC in two tough losses.

The good news is that, again, he is just 20 years old, a rookie, and was drafted first in the MLS SuperDraft for a reason. The kid is talented and has plenty of time, but still is going through some growing pains, just as LAFC is in their first year of MLS.

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