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LAFC 2020 Player Postmortem: Latif Blessing

The “Star Man” just keeps showing us new tricks.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

I really don’t think we make enough of the evolution of Latif Blessing’s positions in his MLS career. He signed with Sporting Kansas City as a striker out of Ghana, played as a wide forward in his lone season with Sporting, then began with the same role for LAFC to open the 2018 season.

In 2019, he was thrown into central midfield in a pinch against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium, and was fantastic. It turned out, he had much better defensive instincts than his winger/wide forward role indicated, and he was a terrific two-way midfielder in LAFC’s system. Blessing was a revelation, and while Eduard Atuesta did deserve top billing and the MLS Best XI accolade he received, Blessing was not far behind him that season in terms of his contributions.

Last year, Blessing showed even more depths to his versatility. He played in the forward line in a pinch, he played right back quite a bit, and he was second in minutes on the team, even in what was relatively speaking a “down” year for a pretty damn good player.

Here are Blessing’s statistics for 2020:

Latif Blessing 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 21 18 1,720 1 4 15 6 4 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 180 1 0 4 1 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 90 0 0 1 1 0 0
CCL 5 3 325 1 0 3 1 1 0
Total 29 24 2,315 3 4 23 9 5 0

There are few players who are routinely played in so many positions around MLS — former Seattle Sounders utilityman Brad Evans comes to mind, although he never played as a forward — and one could argue that the moving around hurt Blessing’s rhythm last year. I absolutely understand why he was moved around, because often he was the only reasonable option, but I do think it hurt his consistency.

I also think that Blessing is probably not going to turn into a Best XI-caliber right back in MLS. He can play that position in certain game states and in a total pinch, but he just was not nearly as effective playing there as in midfield or even in the forward line. LAFC needed to address a lack of depth in that position in the offseason, and hopefully they’ve done that for 2021.

And with a strange transfer rumor emerging in the fall, with Brazilian club Vasco da Gama said to be taking a look at Blessing, his head seemed turned by the interest. The reported context — he was separated from his spouse and trying to reunite — was understandable, however, but in reading the tea leaves it sounds as though LAFC had to sit down and have a talk with Blessing to convince him to stay at the club.

Both Blessing and Bob Bradley talked in recent days about the player’s focus wavering at times in 2020, but you wouldn’t know it by this advanced stats chart for his 2020 performance.

The good news is that Blessing’s family situation appears to be rectified and he is coming off a strong preseason for 2021. Will that translate into a best season ever scenario? It very well could. LAFC currently roll five deep in their three-man midfield, and I expect a lot of rotation this season. But I also think Blessing has the fire to fight for his spot, and at 24, he could certainly still attract interest abroad, something that continues to percolate in whispers about the transfer market.

Blessing is a cult hero for many LAFC fans, and his determination, hard work and yes, versatility are all reasons why. His transformation is one of the most remarkable stories around MLS the last five years, and I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet. If he takes another step forward in 2021, the plaudits from around the league and beyond may finally come to him.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.