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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Eduard Atuesta

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Midfielder wrapped up black-and-gold tenure.

Portland Timbers v Los Angeles FC Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Eduard Atuesta was a vital player for LAFC throughout his four-season run, although the contributions weren’t always visible. Not a pure playmaker, not a pure deep-lying playmaker, not a midfield destroyer, not a pure box-to-box midfielder, Bob Bradley effectively created his version of a two-way midfielder with Atuesta as the ideal: Capable of doing literally everything, and doing it well.

That’s...not easy. The reason players in midfield typically specialize is because midfield is a hard position. Half the field is in front of you, half behind you. You have to play a 360 degree game unlike anyone else on the field. And some players are really good at attacking, some are really good at defending, some are good runners and kind of good at both, but Atuesta was exceptional at everything, without drawing much attention to himself.

Here are Atuesta’s stats in 2021:

Eduard Atuesta 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 24 24 2,130 2 8 43 14 3 0

In terms of production stats, Atuesta’s 2021 season was fairly similar to his 2019 season, where he was MLS Best XI for good reason. And he’s cut down on his yellow card acquisitions, a good trait considering his importance in the lineup.

And that could be where LAFC fell short ultimately in 2021, and a sign of the future for the club, potentially. Atuesta never played every game in a season in MLS, and while he didn’t suffer any major injuries, he has gradually picked up a propensity to miss time with injuries. These things happen, of course, and he still featured in the majority of LAFC’s games, but by the end of the season, he was dealing with multiple injuries at once, and that has to be a bit concerning that it’s going to be an increasing trend over time for him.

And while Atuesta is exceptional at keeping the flow in the game going, he became the default captain for LAFC when Carlos Vela was out of the lineup and I’m not sure he seemed like a real “rally the troops” kind of player. He had some fire, he certainly wasn’t afraid to stand up for teammates, but unlike, say, Mark-Anthony Kaye, who did seem to understand the vocal leadership components of being a captain, Atuesta was like Vela in that they preferred to lead by example. That’s fine when it’s working, and in 2021, it didn’t work and LAFC were crying out for a more inspirational captain on the field.

Having catalogued Atuesta’s shortcomings, he was still terrific. In looking at his advanced stats on FBref.com, in comparing him to other midfielders in MLS he’s above average to elite in nearly every category. You don’t usually see play this strong across the board.

Of course, Atuesta is on to pastures new now, as he recently transferred to defending Copa Libertadores champion Palmeiras, and made his debut for them on Sunday.

LAFC made a profit on the transfer fee paid for the Colombian, although it probably wasn’t what they were hoping for, and there’s been some discussion on the disappointment of him moving to a Brazilian club instead of one in Europe. It is what it is — I don’t consider it some horrible indictment on LAFC or MLS, nor do I think it’s indicative of much beyond a depressed transfer market globally, as clubs struggle to come out of the pandemic with healthy finances. Going to a continental champion while making a profit is ultimately a win-win for everyone, and I wish him the best in his career.

The big question is who fills Atuesta’s big shoes in black-and-gold. I still think the succession plan was to have Francisco Ginella take over in that role, although people I respect think he’s nowhere near Atuesta’s level. I certainly think they have different profiles, and Ginella could probably use someone else helping with the midfield muscle, but no one really thought of Atuesta bodying opponents either, and things worked out pretty well. There’s also the possibility that Kellyn Acosta will take over in Atuesta’s spot, and he definitely has potential as an on-field leader rallying the team when they need it, while also playing a strong two-way game. Of course, with a new coach in Steve Cherundolo, midfield as we knew it under Bob Bradley could change substantially, so we’ll see.

But I think we’re definitely going to miss Atuesta, no question about it. It was time for him to move on, and I will remain a fan of his, but it may take some time for LAFC to recover from having a midfielder who can somehow do just about everything keeping the team’s rhythm from the middle of the park.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.