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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Kim Moon-hwan

Newcomer brought the spark in debut season.

Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles FC Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

If you like fast players, and you like fullbacks who love to attack, then Kim Moon-hwan is for you.

The right back was one of LAFC’s international signings for the 2021 season, and while he was slowed in preseason with a minor injury, the South Korean international was one of the few players to provide “wow” moments for his new club.

In some ways, his style was needed for LAFC. At their best, the team under Bob Bradley relied on a defense where one fullback usually stayed back, while the other one bombed forward. Steven Beitashour was very successful in this role, although he was a very good defensive fullback as well, and at his best, Diego Palacios’ verticality helped LAFC load up in attack to overwhelm opponents.

With Bradley insisting Tristan Blackmon was going to be a center back and the team struggling badly in 2020 to fill right back when Blackmon was hurt, they needed an upgrade, and found one.

Here are Kim’s stats for 2021 with LAFC:

Kim Moon-hwan 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 19 1,783 1 2 12 3 0 0

One of the most promising connections Kim built was rather surprising. In the limited time he and Carlos Vela were on the field together, they quickly built a chemistry, with Kim able to link up with the Mexican star and set up chances for the attacker. If they can stay on the field together and build on that, it could give LAFC an element many teams don’t face often.

Now, in talking up Kim’s attacking skills, what about his defense? My first response is to stress with LAFC in 2021, he very much played a lot in attack. While he did have to alternate a bit with Palacios, because both players bombing upfield basically left LAFC completely exposed, Kim’s skills and strengths were very much in pressing forward. He’s very good in possession, his footwork and ball skills are superb, and he has a good eye for a worthy run or pass to progress an attack.

However, in comparing him to other fullbacks in MLS, his defensive advanced stats, according to FBref.com, he’s pretty solid.

Yes, he’s near the bottom in blocks, clearances and aerials, but fullbacks tend to either be strong or not at all strong in these categories and so I don’t think these are fatal flaws. He’s pretty close to average in pressures and tackles and very good in interceptions, something fullbacks usually are pretty strong at.

I will be curious, if Steve Cherundolo’s LAFC play a more balanced approach, how Kim’s game will evolve and if he will get the same liberties to bomb forward. Given Cherundolo’s own past as a fullback, I wouldn’t be shocked to see some wrinkles at that position, and again, given Kim’s strengths, you wouldn’t want him hanging out on the backline for 90 minutes. If that were the case, you might as well swap him out with a stay-at-home right back.

But I do think it will be good for him if he gets to play a more balanced game. When you’re winning most of the 4-3 games, it’s all good, but when you start losing games 6-2 more than once a year, you gotta take a look in the mirror. Above all, if Kim can continue to provide the fun plays, some production to go with it and solid defensive play, then he could really take off in his second season with LAFC. Here’s hoping that happens.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.