Los Angeles Football Club became the envy of MLS last season through the prowess of Carlos Vela, the exciting play of Diego Rossi, an improved defense in Year 2.
But the midfield trio of Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing took a leap together in 2019 and became the somewhat secret key to LAFC’s success that year.
In the offseason, the club signed two intriguing midfielders, Francisco Ginella out of Uruguay and Jose Cifuentes from Ecuador. Both players were young, promising prospects in the mold of Kaye and Atuesta, but with a stacked midfield in front of them, would they get a chance in 2020?
It turns out, the future is basically here for the duo. Ginella started LAFC’s first game of the season, in the Concacaf Champions League way back in February, and he’s played in all of LAFC’s regular-season games so far, something I think has gone under the radar.
Even quieter, perhaps, because he arrived later and was injured in preseason, Cifuentes has now played in 10 of LAFC’s 11 games in the regular season so far, and of late has become a fixture, starting the last five games.
International duty and an injury for Atuesta, plus Blessing being moved around the field to fill holes, plus Kaye being suspended after a recent red card, means the new South American duo have gotten their chances, and as the weeks go by, the newcomers are looking more and more assured for the black-and-gold.
“I think over the years at the club we’ve established that we want the team to revolve around the center of the park, so with how we’ve grown as a club we’ve been adding more pieces there,” Kaye told reporters Wednesday when asked about the impact of Cifuentes and Ginella of late. “I think it’s only a matter of time until everything starts clicking there as well. We’ve got a lot of talented players. The way we play is very detail-oriented and it takes time. These guys have been progressing very well, it’ll only keep getting better with more games. Obviously it’s important that Eduard is coming back, he’s a key focal point to how we play. So whenever you can get an important player like that back, it helps everyone. And the guys around him just feed off him, including myself.”
LAFC head coach Bob Bradley was asked about Cifuentes after Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Portland Timbers, and indicated the 21-year-old is getting his legs under him in the United States.
“The development of Cifu has been incredible to see,” Bradley told reporters in the postgame press conference. “When he arrived you could tell that he was still a little nervous about things. His English at first, he was uncomfortable even trying to speak English. He had plenty of guys that could always speak Spanish to him. But what I’ve seen is him just try so hard to grow as a person. He now tries to speak English. He looks right at you when you talk to him. He’s a really good guy, with a strong character. And so I think in this last stretch he has really taken big steps forward.”
It’s not just the Spanish speakers who are studying Spanish, as Kaye admitted he’s dabbling in Spanish studies himself.
“I am learning Spanish, I don’t use it much on the field,” Kaye said. “Soccer is a world sport, so language is always a barrier. We figure out ways to not let it impede us. But they’re doing a good job learning English and again, it’s just understanding the way we play and knowing where we want your players to be...Sometimes you don’t need to talk but the communication is there.”
While the return of Atuesta from injury is a boost for LAFC in the short term, there’s a feeling the Colombian could be in line for a big transfer to Europe before too long, and Kaye has also reportedly got some European transfer interest. If that key duo leaves, they would be missed, but their heirs apparent are already getting acclimated and look like they can be part of the group that could make LAFC’s midfield unstoppable right now. Time will tell.
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