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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Jose Cifuentes

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He needed some patience but was terrific in debut season in MLS.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Cifuentes was one of two young South American midfielders LAFC signed in 2020, both with considerable expectations. The Ecuadorian had to wait a bit to really break through, but he arguably staked a claim on a starting spot moving forward for the club after a strong debut season in MLS.

LAFC’s midfield is by far their deepest position, as they currently go five deep on legitimate starters, in Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Cifuentes and Francisco Ginella. But with only three slots in midfield, competition is fierce, but that should push the group on and help cover over absences in a season.

Cifuentes joined the black-and-gold after a star-making turn at the U-20 World Cup, and his calling card was an apparent cannon of a shot from distance, while doing the box-to-box duties that LAFC require in the middle of the field.

But after participating in international duty for his country in the preseason and suffering an injury, Cifuentes was fifth in the depth chart to start the season, with fellow newcomer Ginella ready to play from day one and Cifuentes having to content himself with spot duty off the bench to begin his LAFC tenure.

As a result, he didn’t start getting starts until the end of August, but he started to find form and really show what he could do. And from there, he was a fixture in the lineup.

Here are Cifuentes’ stats with LAFC in 2020:

Jose Cifuentes 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 18 13 1,150 1 3 34 10 4 0
MiB Knockouts 2 0 10 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CCL 3 3 216 0 0 4 1 0 0
Total 23 16 1,376 1 3 38 11 4 0

In fact, between his settling in to the team and various injury absences and Blessing being moved all around to fill gaps in other spots in the lineup, Cifuentes only missed starts after he started getting them for international duty or because he tested positive for COVID. He missed the playoff game against the Seattle Sounders for the latter reason and was back for the run to the Concacaf Champions League final, and was a key player on that memorable run.

What does Cifuentes bring to LAFC’s lineup? He takes care of the defensive side of the game but I think his big skill is truly progressing the attack from midfield. One goal and three assists doesn’t really scream attacking dynamo, but Cifuentes was very good in progressive buildups and his movement, whether it was to flare out wide and be an outlet to help develop an attacking play, or to bomb the box when something was setting up, or getting the ball to the person who was going to set up the goal was fantastic.

Here’s one of those all-touch compilations from the game in which he scored his debut goal for LAFC:

I think this gives you a sense of Cifuentes’ ability to play progressive soccer.

If it doesn’t, here’s a chart from FBRef.com of how Cifuentes stacked up against other MLS players in his position in 2020. One word: Elite.

Cifuentes’ MLS player comps from this chart is not only his LAFC midfield teammates, but also the likes of FC Dallas playmaker Andres Ricuarte, Seattle utilityman Cristian Roldan, and Philadelphia Union metronome Jamiro Monteiro. That’s quite a range of different midfield roles.

So I think it was a good debut season for the Ecuadorian, and provided he can stay healthy, I think he could be the next Atuesta in terms of a player who had a solid first season in MLS for LAFC and then really blossomed in year two. They don’t have the same strengths, but if Cifuentes can add some more production to his silky two-way play with a rugged edge thrown in, then he could potentially be a breakout star for LAFC. It’s not a given, but he appears to have the tools to do it.

And if he can elevate his game to something approaching Best XI status, then LAFC should be in good shape in terms of contending for trophies in 2021. One can only hope.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.