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LAFC 2019 Player Postmortem: Rodolfo Zelaya

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A seemingly savvy signing that didn’t work out in 2019.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Rodolfo Zelaya was an intriguing signing for Los Angeles Football Club in 2019. The striker, probably the best Salvadoran player of his generation, had been linked to a move to MLS for a while, but it seemed like it wasn’t meant to be. Until LAFC stepped in.

Surprisingly, Zelaya already had a green card when he signed, so all signs pointed to a savvy signing, of a player with oodles of Concacaf experience, a nose for goal and who wouldn’t cost an international roster spot. What was not to like?

The context may have been good, but the season itself wasn’t quite as rosy. Zelaya signed as a 30-year-old and an injury in preseason meant he wouldn’t be able to play in March. Or April. Or May.

Zelaya didn’t feature for LAFC until June, and by that point he had become a punchline for many LAFC fans. To be fair, no two injuries are alike, and even if an ailment seems “minor” on the outside, you never know how recovery is going or whether a player is truly hitting a run of bad luck.

But to much of the fanbase, “Fito watch” was an inside joke, the expectation Zelaya would be ready this week, finally, curdled the enthusiasm for the signing and when he finally did play, it was really anticlimactic.

Here are Zelaya’s statistics with LAFC in 2019:

Rodolfo Zelaya 2019 LAFC 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 1 118 1 0 6 2 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 1 0 2 0 0 1 1 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 5 1 120 1 0 7 3 0 0

Adding to the jabs aimed at Zelaya, he had a run of games in the league and Open Cup in June and July, and that was it. Just five appearances.

After Bob Bradley gave him a chance, and he scored a goal, even if it was a total layup from Carlos Vela, the head coach seemed to look elsewhere, not even playing Zelaya when Christian Ramirez was traded away and Adama Diomande stepped away from the club for personal reasons.

Zelaya was sent on a two-game loan stint to the Las Vegas Lights, not doing a great deal there and coming back to get put back on the shelf for LAFC. And with Zelaya being a star in El Salvador, his status was a hot topic in his native country, and Zelaya himself openly admitted he was ready to go elsewhere for 2020.

The problem? He’s under contract to LAFC next season, and the team confirmed that fact this week. It seems likely the club is willing to move on, but it remains to be seen if there’s a transfer market for him or if LAFC will need to cancel his contract. I’d say there’s a chance Zelaya could come back and work his way into the rotation, but Bradley’s use of Zelaya and Zelaya’s public complaints would indicate there’s not a future for him in black-and-gold. Oh, and he just picked up a knee injury on international duty. It’s the offseason, but in terms of the transfer market, it’s not ideal for player or club!

We’ll see what happens. It’s possible Zelaya is back with LAFC for at least some of 2020, but all signs point to an exit sooner than later.

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