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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Raheem Edwards

Utility player really moved around the field.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at LA Galaxy Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Raheem Edwards is an incredibly versatile player who brings up the obvious question: Is a utilityman better for the team than the player himself?

When Edwards emerged as a homegrown player in 2015, he was a remarkably skilled winger. Somewhat similar to Tommy Thompson, Edwards could clown a couple defenders with some flicks and nutmegs and successful dribbles, but he would often end up on an island or struggle to connect those prodigious gifts with his teammates in the run of play.

He was a squad player on a deep Toronto FC his first few seasons, but Greg Vanney didn’t seem to rate him, and then the youngster was on a journeyman’s tour around MLS, featuring for the Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, and Minnesota United before signing with LAFC for 2021.

While Thompson has stayed on the same team, he’s been moved back on the field to fullback, where he’s settled well, and a similar path has taken place for Edwards — moving further back on the field and filling in where the team needed him. But with the moving around different teams, Edwards seemed unable to settle and so he keeps moving around.

In 2021, Edwards played left back, right back, left midfield, right midfield, central midfield, forward, attacking midfield, and wide forward. If you’re keeping track, that’s basically everything except center back and goalkeeper. When I say he was a utilityman, he truly was. Not just playing a few roles, he was almost everywhere on the field, which came in handy with LAFC dealing with major depth issues yet again.

Here were Edwards’ stats in 2021:

Raheem Edwards 2021 LAFC Statistics

2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS 27 15 1,369 0 2 26 7 4 0

But why is it bad for the player to be a Swiss army knife? Very few players really thrive being moved up, down, all around the field game to game. Obviously having a guy do a job almost anywhere is very useful for a team, and utility players just don’t get the due they deserve. At the same time, if they’ve been in a defensive mindset playing on the backline, then get brought in the next game off the bench to play in the forward line being asked to score, then the next game has to do a shift in a two-way midfield role...I bet this is tougher than many of us think. Aside from the “Total Football” Dutch and Ajax teams of the 1970s that truly prepped constant positional rotations during the match, players get assigned positions and play them. Yes, sometimes a player has to fill in but playing eight different positions across a season is probably a pretty heavy load for the player, actually.

I think because of Edwards “jack of all trades” approach used by LAFC, many regarded him as a “master of none.” And this is where I think most of the disadvantages of being a utility player come in. Aside from occasional exceptions like Brad Evans, versatile players often struggle to be regular starters. Since they can play anywhere, where is their best position? If they’re moving around all the time, can they really hone their skills in any one slot? Even Evans bristled against being moved around at times, but he also spent sustained time in several positions in his career, not being moved around game to game. Edwards has really expanded his repertoire beyond the tricky winger he entered MLS as, but has he reached the point where he could be a regular starter at any spot?

For LAFC, it didn’t seem like it, even if I thought he put in good shifts. Good veteran squad players are important to any squad, especially in MLS, but I understand some of the lukewarm attitude by many fans towards Edwards, even if I think the larger context was not really his fault at all.

Edwards is a free agent now and it does not look like he will be re-signing with LAFC. I think he’s a smart guy, he’s someone who thinks deeply when he’s asked a question, but it looks like the journeyman will continue his jaunt around MLS. Some have joked he’ll follow Bob Bradley to TFC, and in some ways, I think that would be nice. I don’t think he hit his ceiling as a player and a return home to give it another go might actually be great for all parties. But we’ll see.

And with Edwards presumably gone, it looks like LAFC will need another utilityman for 2022. Latif Blessing obviously has done it, too, but he’s also thrived when kept in a single position most of the time, and finding the right player to fill a weird role is tough. We’ll see who’s next.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.