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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Tristan Blackmon

Versatile defender slowed again by injury.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Tristan Blackmon returned for his fourth season in 2021, LAFC’s fourth season as well. With the defender getting plenty of reps at center back and the club signing right back Kim Moon-hwan, it appeared Blackmon would either split his time between the positions or would transition further to more of a center back.

In the end, his season was marked by mostly playing right back, when Kim was injured early in the campaign, and then mostly playing center back, especially after Eddie Segura went down with a torn ACL midseason.

Here are Blackmon’s stats in 2021:

Tristan Blackmon 2021 LAFC Statistics

2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS 22 15 1,293 1 1 7 1 2 1

On the bright side, Blackmon’s advanced stats, per FBRef.com, compared to other center backs around MLS, were quite good. He is especially strong at defending the ball, and he’s largely lost the frightened rabbit demeanor he would get at times early in his career. Plus, having positional flexibility has been a real asset in MLS, especially the past two seasons, in which key players go down for LAFC and having someone who can credibly start in the middle or right of defense is a great card to play.

The downside is that Blackmon has had some issues with muscle injuries and his durability may be a real concern. Obviously by and large injuries are a matter of luck, and it’s possible he’s just had a couple of seasons where lingering injuries made him miss some real time. Maybe he’ll be perfectly healthy the rest of his career. But, fair or not, defenders missing time with injuries tends to be more disruptive for teams than further upfield. Clearly, Bob Bradley was aiming to make Blackmon a Sergio Ramos-type dominant center back, but the injuries held him back a bit from being considered an automatic starter, a first-choice player for the black-and-gold. Again, it may just come down to bad luck, but I think it did slow down his progress a bit.

And now, Blackmon appears to have played his final game for LAFC, after being selected in the Expansion Draft by Charlotte FC and being immediately flipped to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Many wondered why LAFC didn’t outright trade Blackmon themselves, and that is a fair point. I imagine there was some strategy at play here: If the club was ready to move on from him, they will get some allocation money for losing a player in the expansion draft and they shouldn’t be eligible in next year’s expansion draft, so they won’t have to worry about losing a player. I must admit, I’m still surprised they didn’t build in a “don’t pick any of our players” handshake agreement as part of their trade with Charlotte for Pablo Sisniega, but what’s done is done. LAFC would have gotten more allocation money directly from Vancouver but they may have wanted to avoid the expansion draft dance again in 12 months’ time, and it may have helped them acquire Ismael Tajouri-Shradi from Charlotte.

To an extent, I think Blackmon shutting down Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 2019 playoffs remains his best performance for LAFC and he didn’t quite reach those heights again. Having said that, he’s gone from a player that Bradley insisted would be a quality center back and largely done that. He’s not yet dominant, and maybe he can reach greater heights in a new system with the Whitecaps, but much of the promise was realized. Not all of it, but much of it.

Blackmon’s departure, of course, also represents another data point in the “end of an era” turning point for LAFC. Mamadou Fall’s emergence may have made him somewhat expendable at center back, but right back depth behind Kim looks pretty shallow, unless Erik Dueñas will be back from his torn ACL early in 2022 and can step up to be a backup.

So we’ll see what happens. I could see the player being near his peak and turning out to be a solid MLS player, or keep developing and make LAFC leaving him exposed in the Expansion Draft look really silly. Time will tell, but we’ll see what happens for one of the first-ever draft picks for LAFC.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.