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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: The players who didn’t see the field

Most of the deep squad players still got playing time, though.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas
You probably didn’t remember Greg Ranjitsingh’s stint on the bench.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Six players were on LAFC’s roster during the 2021 season who did not ultimately play for the club. In spite of a slew of injuries, international duty and departures, these players didn’t feature for the black-and-gold for one reason or another.

And yet, the profile of most of those players who were on the deep bench was similar: Teenagers, who spent the season on loan and/or injured. So while they may not have played in MLS this year, they still played.

To kick off our annual series, let’s shine a brief light on all the players in 2021 who were on the squad but didn’t feature for LAFC.

Tony Leone

Courtesy of Las Vegas Lights FC

Leone is still just 17, but after signing his first pro contract with LAFC in the middle of the 2020 season, he finally made his professional debut this season, albeit away from the first team. The center back was one of the top minutes men for LAFC’s reserve team, Las Vegas Lights FC, this year. He made 23 appearances, nearly all starts, and played just over 2,000 minutes at USL Championship level. For a prospect who’s been hyped in North America and has been a consistent call-up to the Mexico youth national team, it was good to see him get playing time, finally, and we’ll see what the future brings. It’s hard to throw a teenager in as a starting center back at MLS level, and the club appeared to believe he needed to get reps elsewhere first. He’s done that, so we’ll see if it’s more of the same moving forward or a new path awaits.

Mohamed Traore

Courtesy of Las Vegas Lights FC

Traore is 19 now, and had a cup of coffee in MLS in 2020, but the fellow central defender spent the season with Las Vegas Lights as well. He played 20 matches in the USL Championship, notching 1,660 minutes along the way. The Senegalese defender also built up reps, but it’s worth noting for him and Leone that Las Vegas struggled badly for most of the season in a pretty stacked division, and they shipped goals at an eye-popping rate. That doesn’t totally come down to the center backs, but these guys took some lumps, and then some, in 2021. And like Leone, we’ll see what happens moving forward for Traore.

Erik Dueñas

Courtesy of Lights FC Communications.

Another homegrown defender, Dueñas made six appearances for Las Vegas this year, after making two appearances off the bench for LAFC in 2020. Bob Bradley has touted the 17-year-old’s versatility, saying he could have a future at either right back or central midfield. Unfortunately, his campaign was cut short when he tore his ACL in August and required surgery. No one plans for injuries, and while he still got a handful of games, it has to be a disappointing season overall for Dueñas.

Christian Torres

Courtesy of Las Vegas Lights FC

Another 17-year-old homegrown, Torres was the breakout star of that trio last year at LAFC, but 2021 was a different story. The striker came into the season rehabbing from an injury, according to Bradley, and he was sent to Las Vegas for the season. At the start of the season for Lights FC, he was coming off the bench for very late minutes, usually in games where the loss was pretty much already decided, but he did play and build up his fitness over the course of the season. It also looked like Torres had a growth spurt this season, and probably needed to adjust to a changing body. At his age, that makes sense.

Still, he scored three goals in 1,240 minutes for Las Vegas in 2021, and his highlight was definitely a brace over LA Galaxy II in June.

Hopefully 2022 is a bounce-back campaign for Torres, but we’ll see what happens for the forward.

Julian Gaines

SFChronicleSports
Gaines (right) in action for Las Vegas.
Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Another teenager, the 19-year-old was signed directly by Las Vegas Lights to start the 2021 season and got some run at right back and higher up the field before signing a first-team contract midseason.

Unfortunately, he never played for LAFC because he suffered a pelvic fracture and as a result spent the rest of the season on the injury report. LAFC made a rather big trade to officially get Gaines’ MLS rights, sending Toronto FC $50,000 in general allocation money, so I would think they see him as part of their future, unless they were just burning allocation money that was going to expire anyway. So we’ll see if he’s back in camp in 2022.

Greg Ranjitsingh

Last but certainly not least, the 28-year-old goalkeeper, pictured at top, was the only ‘keeper rostered by LAFC who did not feature in 2021. But there’s a catch, as Ranjitsingh was an emergency signing, serving as the backup on Sept. 15 when Pablo Sisniega was hurt and Jamal Blackman was not yet eligible for selection. Ranjitsingh served as the MLS Pool Goalkeeper in 2021, which means he was the designated emergency call-up for teams in that position like LAFC’s. So he wasn’t a full-fledged member of the squad, but rather a guy who flew in for a few days, then was on his way again. While MLS Pool Goalkeepers sometimes see action, in this case, the journeyman who made his name at Louisville City was only needed to sit on the bench in case Tomas Romero had to leave the game. As a result, we probably won’t see him back at LAFC in the future, although I suppose you never know.

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