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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Eduard Atuesta

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Midfielder showed why he’s a vital player.

MLS: Inter Miami CF at Los Angeles FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Eduard Atuesta entered his third season with LAFC in 2020 with major expectations on his shoulders.

The Colombian was coming off an outstanding 2019 season, one where he was named MLS Best XI, and he began the year with Colombia’s U-23s in Olympic qualifying. Glory for club, glory for country, it could all really have come together for him.

In the end, Atuesta fell agonizingly short on both counts. Colombia just missed out on the Olympics, with the midfielder getting some criticism from Colombian fans. He bookended the year with the Concacaf Champions League final run with LAFC, but an unfair red card in the semifinal ruled him out for the title game, and the black-and-gold faded in the dying minutes with him unavailable.

Here are Atuesta’s stats from 2020:

Eduard Atuesta 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 17 14 1,326 1 2 32 4 3 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 171 0 0 3 1 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 90 1 0 3 1 0 0
CCL 3 3 218 0 1 3 1 1 1
Total 23 20 1,805 2 3 40 7 4 1

Atuesta’s value, in fact, really shined through in his absence in 2020. With Atuesta unavailable in the opening game against Club León, LAFC looked way off and were rather fortunate to only lose 2-0 in Mexico. At the end of the MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinal, he suffered an injury that kept him out for weeks, and LAFC not only got bounced out of that tournament but ended up limping through the rest of the regular season. And then there was the unjust red card in the CCL.

So that is one data point to show how good Atuesta is, that LAFC collapsed in ways big and small when he wasn’t available. Another is to show this absolutely eye-popping graphic from FBref.com, showing exactly how elite Atuesta is in pretty much every category.

This is about the greenest of these tables I’ve seen to date, with only a few spots where his advanced stats are not at the maximum among players in his position.

And all of this is a way of proving how vital Atuesta truly is. He doesn’t score a ton, and he’s not a destroyer in midfield, but he can do both attacking and defensive roles well, with improvement shown year-over-year, and his passing and ability to set the tone for games is outstanding. That’s why he doesn’t end up on many highlight reels but why some argue — controversially, but they make a case — that Atuesta is more important to LAFC than even Carlos Vela or Diego Rossi.

The main area where Atuesta needs to improve is in his composure in big moments. On a weekly basis, he’s money and when there’s a knockout game, he’s tended to get small in the big moments. I think the CCL run was paradoxically really good for him, because he did not fold in the win against Cruz Azul, and perhaps has turned a corner in that regard. Time will tell.

And now, the future. Atuesta is in the final year of his contract and there’s a real risk that LAFC will sell him soon in order to get something before he’s able to walk away for free. I know many fans want him to sign a new deal with LAFC, and perhaps that is possible, perhaps not. I think most would agree he is capable of taking a step up and I would not begrudge him moving on, nor would I begrudge LAFC selling him to make some money from the investment.

The risk, of course, is that if Atuesta departs before the end of the 2021 season, his central role would create a chasm that could sink LAFC’s title hopes. There is a growing feeling that this is a “now or never” season with LAFC — Atuesta, Rossi, Palacios, perhaps, and the uncertain future of veterans like Vela all possibly nearing the end of their time with LAFC means the title-winning window that’s currently wide open could slam shut before we know it. Would LAFC rather pocket $4 million and risk Atuesta not being around to win silverware, or keep him and risk getting nothing in the end?

It is an enormous dilemma, and while LAFC already restocked their midfield with Jose Cifuentes and Francisco Ginella last season, that doesn’t necessarily solve the “win now” imperative. It’s quite likely LAFC will have to sacrifice something, it’s a matter of what they are willing to give up.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Atuesta is an LAFC player and he’s one of the very best midfielders in MLS. Here’s hoping he continues to grow as a player moving forward, and hopefully can help stock LAFC’s trophy cabinet in the process.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.