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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Diego Palacios

Defender endured season of ups and downs.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Diego Palacios slid into the starting left back role for LAFC in 2020. Then he lost his spot. Then he won it back and with a vengeance.

The Ecuadorian joined LAFC in the middle of the 2019 season, and while he got some run, he jumped into a team that was in a rhythm en route to their Supporters’ Shield win, and so he was a rotation option.

Heading into his first full season in MLS, however, he was expected to be the starter, ahead of Jordan Harvey and Mohamed El Munir, and so it proved to be. He was close to an automatic option for two-thirds of the season, out for the most part only when he got called up for international duty with Ecuador.

Still, like LAFC overall, his 2020 campaign was full of ups and downs. While he was getting regular minutes, LAFC’s defense was a sieve most of the season, and he was far from the only culprit, but some doubt started to creep in about Palacios’ level, too. Did LAFC really beat back FC Barcelona to sign this guy?

You could see Bob Bradley give him an earful after a game — not necessarily a red flag and not necessarily a bad thing given Bradley’s penchant for coaching — but the body language in the photos indicated some frustration on both sides.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s Palacios’ stats in 2020:

Diego Palacios 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 16 15 1,230 0 1 4 0 2 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 161 0 0 2 0 1 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CCL 5 5 428 0 1 2 0 2 0
Total 23 22 1,819 0 2 8 0 5 0

Palacios played in LAFC’s first 17 of 19 games but he down the stretch of the regular season, with his form appearing to dip, and international call-ups looming, Bradley brought Harvey back in for some more minutes. Given the punishing nature of the pandemic 2020 period, plus the mental and physical rigors, it’s not a shock that a player may need a rest and need to recharge a bit.

And then Palacios tested positive for coronavirus on international duty and had to miss LAFC’s playoff game. His absence wasn’t the reason they lost that game, with a slew of starters missing, but it didn’t help. Had the season ended there, I think we’d have some major questions about Palacios and whether a tough 2020 was a blip or a sign that his ceiling may not be as high as expected.

But then, he got a second chance in Concacaf Champions League to close out the season and took full advantage. Palacios was a fixture in the lineup in the final three games and truly elevated his game in the crunch moments for LAFC. The whole team did that, honestly, but I think aside from Kenneth Vermeer, Palacios’ stock rebounded the most on LAFC’s squad from the run to the CCL final. He went from being a “Maybe he needs more time to develop” prospect to “This guy is legit locking down top Liga MX players” to close out the season, and his selection to the Team of the Tournament was well-deserved.

So I think the expectations should be high for Palacios again in 2021. He’s the projected starter, even with Harvey returning for yet another season, and at 21 Palacios could certainly still grow in his game. And with LAFC hoping to have a much more stout defense, if they are back at 2019 levels of consistency than he could be in line for more honors if he continues to play like he did in CCL. Palacios is surely another player LAFC will look to sell on abroad at a profit in the future, but that future is unlikely to be 2021, so hopefully he can have a consistently strong campaign this time around.

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