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LAFC mailbag: Zimmerman trade, CCL prospects, options in midfield

Happy Friday!

MLS: Chicago Fire at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hi folks, it’s Friday, let’s try something new today: A mailbag column.

Got a few questions on Twitter in relatively short order (thank you very much). I will do my best to answer those questions below. Let’s dive right in!

When I first learned Walker Zimmerman was being traded to Nashville SC, I assumed it was possibly step one of a process, because the team was obviously not trading away an MLS Best XI center back a week before Concacaf Champions League with no imminent signing at the same position, right?!

Apparently that is the plan. Everything the team has communicated since Zimmerman was traded away indicates 1. This deal came together quickly, meaning the team wasn’t planning to move Zimmerman at all; 2. There is not an imminent replacement signing; 3. They think Tristan Blackmon will replace Zimmerman without an issue.

I am skeptical. Blackmon was effective in shutting down Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the playoffs last year at center back, a monumental achievement. Is that sample size enough to pull the trigger on trading away one of the best center backs in the league (yes, he is that)? Time will tell.

As for the question at hand, by my count LAFC have 10 players listed as international. I have an educated guess Carlos Vela is probably in line to receive his green card at any moment. It appears with the trade with Nashville they have nine slots. If no one else signs, and if no one else is sold/traded or gets his green card, they may have to use that slot to be compliant, never mind looking for more players.

As for the allocation money? To me, if Blackmon is indeed a starter at center back, the team absolutely needs a right back. If he is the starting right back, LAFC need a center back. Either way, they need a defender if they don’t want to take a step back in terms of defensive solidity in 2020.

Next up!

It sort of looks like that, right? CCL is already hard — starting the season against better opposition than you normally encounter in the league, with a long history of futility by MLS teams against Liga MX sides, and this being the first time LAFC is involved in what is a truly wild ride.

I really don’t think LAFC are punting on CCL. They say they want to win the tournament, which is the right idea; why bother participating if you don’t want to compete for the title? But does the Zimmerman trade put them in the best position to beat Club León? You can definitely make a case it does not — allocation money and an international slot won’t be able to chase Luis Montes around the field.

At the same time, navigating CCL in general is really tricky. If you win the first series but get blown out in the next round, is that success? In LAFC’s case, it probably would be, although the level of defeat, whenever it came, would likely be stinging. If you play quite well but lose the series against León, is your season a failure? No, but you can’t get a hangover over the rest of the season, which some MLS teams have done in the recent past. LAFC could very possibly make a deep run, even win it all with some luck and tons of great play, but history suggests the odds of that are tiny, since no MLS team has managed it yet and it’s LAFC’s first foray, with the hardest draw.

One more before the weekend:

I don’t really look at LAFC’s midfield in terms of defending roles vs. attacking roles. Bob Bradley has required all his midfielders to be thoroughly two-way the first two seasons, and after weathering the bumpy patches in 2018, I would be shocked if he suddenly changed tack and deployed a traditional defensive midfielder alongside a traditional attacking midfielder, etc. Every player who has been in midfield has been required to play a hybrid role, and I expect it to continue.

The big question is how the new signings will feature alongside the starters. Mark-Anthony Kaye has dealt with injuries and when he’s been out, LAFC’s midfield has undoubtedly suffered from the lack of starter-caliber depth. Eduard Atuesta is a rising star, although his role in Colombia’s loss to Uruguay may have hurt his transfer value, although it probably shouldn’t, and he could be getting transfer interest before we know it. So signing both Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes gives plenty of depth if everyone is on the team and healthy, and a couple more clubs in the proverbial bag when Bradley wants to tweak the lineup for fixture congestion or to give opponents a different look game to game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Latif Blessing here. The guy was on the cusp of MLS Best XI in his first season playing two-way midfield. I am adamantly opposed to moving his position again, to right back. Let the MLS Kante continue to blossom in his rightful position.

What do you think? Your thoughts on Zimmerman’s trade with a few days to digest? How will the lineup do? Did you like the mailbag? Let’s chat in the comments below!