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LAFC 2019 Player Postmortem: Tristan Blackmon

Defender makes a big leap in second season.

SOCCER: OCT 24 MLS Cup Playoffs - LA Galaxy at LAFC Photo by Kyusung Gong/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a sign of how good Los Angeles Football Club’s 2019 season was that a few players made substantial improvements year over year under Bob Bradley, but one of the players who made a leap but largely under the radar was defender Tristan Blackmon.

In 2018, Blackmon was LAFC’s second-ever draft pick, a right back who made the roster and who LAFC traded up to get. In his rookie season, however, he split time between limited minutes with the first team and a successful loan stint at Phoenix Rising FC, going to the USL title game with them.

In beginning the 2019 season with Phoenix, too, it looked like more of the same for Blackmon, even more so with the player who was drafted with him, Joao Moutinho, traded away in the offseason. Was there a spot for Blackmon on the LAFC roster long-term?

In a word, yes, as Blackmon’s evolution in 2019 was quite remarkable. His first appearance of the season, in the road draw against the Seattle Sounders, was inauspicious, as he lasted just 45 minutes and looked a bit off the pace. But that sub was just as likely tactical and Blackmon continued to work, finding his breakthrough.

It started to click in late-May. He scored his first goal in the win over Montreal Impact, and played in 17 of LAFC’s final 20 regular-season games.

Here are Blackmon’s statistics with LAFC this year:

Tristan Blackmon 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 18 15 1,377 1 4 9 2 3 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 192 0 1 1 0 0 0
MLS Playoffs 2 2 180 0 0 1 0 0 0
Total 23 19 1,749 1 5 11 2 3 0

So what changed? Two factors contributed to the rise of Blackmon in 2019. The first was out of his hands, as he had to wait for a chance to play. But absences to starting right back Steven Beitashour, who dealt with some injuries this year, and Walker Zimmerman missing time while out with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Blackmon proved himself a capable understudy at both positions, flying to the top of the depth chart in two roles, thus maximizing his chances of playing.

He also showed a newfound comfort level in MLS. No longer a youngster looking to keep up with the action, Blackmon seized the opportunity and looked the part, and again, in two positions, no less.

The result is that Blackmon has gone from a deep bench option to LAFC’s secret, a player who blossomed before our eyes but didn’t get the national attention of Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta, much less Carlos Vela. Blackmon wasn’t just a player who emerged to do a job in a pinch, he became a starter in the playoffs for LAFC, too, thus cementing his emergence as a true breakout player, and doing a good job in fitting in with the best team in the league.

I think in normal circumstances we would then conclude that Blackmon has the ability to be a solid MLS starter, and there’s a good chance that’s his ceiling, and not a bad one at that. But given the transformation of Blessing, for starters, under Bradley, it’s possible Blackmon hasn’t stopped growing on the pro level. I think one would still project his ultimate position to be right back, but who knows? Even if some LAFC fans quibble over mistakes made by Zimmerman and Eddie Segura, the duo was outstanding for most of the season but maybe Blackmon’s transformation into a good MLS center back will continue to unfold. What I’m saying is given Bradley’s track record with this roster Blackmon could yet make a leap and really announce himself nationally in 2020.

We’ll have to see on that front, but I think there’s a solid chance he’s the starting right back moving forward, whether or not Beitashour re-signs. Tristan Blackmon may be flying under the radar, but if you watched LAFC regularly, you saw a player who made major progress in 2019 and it’s exciting to see what the future could hold for him.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!