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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Tristan Blackmon

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Promising defender continued to grow.

Los Angeles FC v Los Angeles Galaxy

LAFC have a lot of confidence in Tristan Blackmon.

They entered 2020 by making a huge move, trading away Best XI defender Walker Zimmerman just before the season started, and doubled down with a remarkable claim, that Blackmon would be the future starting center back, at some point.

While Bob Bradley had previously touted Blackmon’s ability to play at center back, it’s worth remembering Blackmon had played pretty regularly in games at right back. And with the club not bringing back Steven Beitashour in 2020, clearly Blackmon was the starting right back, right? Or was he the center back now?

In the end, Blackmon split his time between the two positions, with most of it at right back. Regardless, he was a key player for the black-and-gold when available.

Here are Blackmon’s statistics from 2020:

Tristan Blackmon 2020 LAFC Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 14 11 977 0 0 4 1 2 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 180 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 90 0 0 0 0 0 0
CCL 5 5 448 0 1 1 0 1 0
Total 22 19 1,695 0 1 5 1 3 0

I think if Andy Najar had become a starter at right back, then maybe Blackmon’s trajectory would have been altered and he would have played more in the middle, but since Najar was seldom available, Blackmon was the obvious choice.

It’s worth taking a moment and wondering why exactly LAFC do want Blackmon to be a central defender. It’s true he’s had some good performances in the middle — his job at shutting down Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the playoffs was a particular highlight in 2019 — but he’s rounding into a fine right back. And we saw in 2020 that LAFC absolutely need a good right back!

We saw that because Blackmon suffered a hamstring injury during the regular season that kept him out a sustained period. In that stretch, with Najar seldom available, it was a rotating door for LAFC, with Latif Blessing and Mohamed El Munir mostly stepping in with no other options at the ready. With right back being a real problem with Blackmon injured, it reinforced how good he’s become in the lineup and his value was really highlighted.

In fact, Blackmon leveraged his play in 2020 into a call-up into the U.S. Men’s National Team January camp, and I think he would have made his debut in the friendly to end the camp had he not suffered a concussion before the game. It was a rough development, and Blackmon will have to wait his turn to see if he gets called up again, but if he continues to develop I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get the nod. I’m also curious as to where Gregg Berhalter would play Blackmon.

At a few points late in the season, Bradley did make sure Blackmon played center back, while moving Eddie Segura to right back. It was still kind of weird, to be honest, because it felt like it was as much making a point that Blackmon can be a central defender than anything else. I think Blackmon can develop into a center back, but again, he’s rounding into a strong right back, why mess with a good thing? I’m not a coach, of course, and perhaps in the long run the vision from the club will be validated.

Blackmon went back to right back for the run to the Concacaf Champions League final, and he was terrific, as the real questions around that position melted away. With Kim Moon-hwan signed this offseason, it will be interesting to see who will play where in defense, but having legit depth, assuming Kim adjusts to MLS and plays at the level, will be good at multiple positions in the back. With Kim on board and Segura and Jesús David Murillo in tow in the middle, there may be legit competition between the four defenders for playing time, and hopefully that pushes them to get better.

Through three seasons in his pro career, Tristan Blackmon has gotten better each year. I expect that trend to continue, and if it does, he could remain a key contributor for LAFC in 2021 and beyond.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.