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LAFC 2019 Player Postmortem: Andre Horta

Can’t sugarcoat this signing was a swing and a huge miss.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2019 was supposed to be Andre Horta’s year in MLS.

The Portuguese midfielder joined Los Angeles Football Club as the third Designated Player midway through the 2018 season, a cultured midfielder with outstanding passing skills who would take MLS by storm and then get sold to a European club for a big fee, in the mold of Miguel Almiron.

We all know Horta’s tenure with LAFC didn’t start great, as he made the most ill-advised long-range backpass you’ll ever see, in El Trafico, on his debut, to turn an LAFC win into a draw.

But here’s the thing: Midseason signings often struggle in MLS initially. The travel, the distances, the varying weather encountered, and of course a new league with its idiosyncratic rules and differing playing styles. Many a quality player has struggled when first playing in MLS and then after half a season or so under his belt, he finds his footing and gets going.

That’s what we hoped would happen with Horta. But it did not.

We probably should have known it wasn’t going to work out when Horta was onscreen in “We are LAFC,” the ESPN+ documentary, and he seemed perplexed at what he was being asked to do for LAFC. He’s a young guy, but he didn’t even turn to sports cliché, he just seemed stunned about this whole being on the other side of the world thing.

Then, once the 2019 season started, Horta was dealing with a minor injury and wasn’t ready to go. Lee Nguyen, Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye took the midfield spots, and after Nguyen got hurt, Latif Blessing became the revelation of the season with his move to midfield.

Horta ended up making four appearances, just two starts, between March and May. And while he wasn’t making catastrophic mistakes, he also didn’t fit on the field with his teammates.

Here are Horta’s stats with LAFC in 2019:

Andre Horta LAFC 2019 statistics

2019 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2019 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 4 2 184 0 0 4 0 1 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 4 2 184 0 0 4 0 1 0

The breaking point seemed to come in a stint off the bench against Montreal. LAFC won that game, 4-2, but Horta looked like he was running in mud as his teammates were zipping around him, trying to control the ball and he seemed to do the exact opposite of what the rest of the team were doing.

Even in 18 minutes of action at the end of a game, it still felt like Horta’s last chance to prove he could hack it in MLS.

And that was confirmed by Bradley, if you read between the lines.

The subtext was confirmed when Horta was transferred to Braga before the summer window was even open. LAFC were so ready to move on that they sold him back for a fraction of the reported $6 million they paid in transfer fees to get him, and then go without a third Designated Player for a month or two, in the middle of the season.

Now, a few caveats. LAFC will get a cut of the transfer fee if Braga sell him, so the reported sub-$3 million fee they recouped could be bolstered if he is sold again. And Horta looks far more comfortable back home, playing regularly for Braga so far in the Primeira Liga and Europa League, although he’s managed just two assists and no goals in 12 appearances. We may have to come to the realization he may never fill up the stat sheet, no matter where he plays.

So it was a swing and a miss for LAFC and Andre Horta. Credit the team for cutting their losses quickly, because he just did not fit in, and you know what? It happens. Sometimes players just don’t fit in certain teams and leagues and teams don’t get it right all the time. It’s food for thought, but that LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield with Horta playing a fully peripheral role and sold him back to Portugal quickly to retool means the mistake was not catastrophic, and both parties seem to be doing better now. For a signing that didn’t work out, it could have gone much worse.

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