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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Jose Cifuentes

Midfielder enjoyed breakout campaign.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Cifuentes returned for his second season with LAFC in 2021, and arguably made the biggest jump on the roster in what was largely a down year for the squad.

The Ecuadorian was slowed a bit to begin 2020 with an injury and being called up to the Ecuador set-up, and with a stacked midfield he had to wait for his turn in his debut season in MLS. He certainly got it, with the truly wild fixture congestion and COVID outbreaks along the way, but he needed to wait until his second season in order to really break through.

Cifuentes moved ahead of Francisco Ginella on the depth chart, and with a hot start to the season, one could argue LAFC felt comfortable trading Mark-Anthony Kaye to the Colorado Rapids midseason because they thought the Ecuadorian was ready for consistent starter’s minutes. Whether that was ultimately the best decision, we’ll see in the long run, but there’s no question Cifuentes was rivaling LAFC’s vaunted starting trio for regular minutes by midseason.

Here are Cifuentes’ stats with LAFC in 2021:

Jose Cifuentes 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 32 26 2,321 5 6 64 17 6 0

If I have one quibble with his season, it seemed like Cifuentes was hot in terms of attacking production in the first half, and then he fell away big time in the second half. Considering LAFC were desperate for goals to pick up results to get to the playoffs, a quest that came up short, it seems he still has room to grow in terms of consistency. Then again, he had never put up a 5G, 5A season anytime in his career previously, so that may come with experience later.

But in looking at his advanced stats on, in comparison to other midfielders in the league he was stellar. Even in defensive categories, which I think are his weaker aspect, he was still above average in most categories, with his pressures showing he was a huge part of LAFC’s pressing system in particular.

I think Cifuentes should have been an MLS All-Star in 2021, and perhaps Bob Bradley, as the MLS All-Stars coach and person who selected the squad, did not want to go overboard in calling up too many LAFC guys, but Cifuentes was stellar in the first half of the season. He was still pretty good in the second half of the season, but his game fell off some. Still, he absolutely took a leap forward.

Don’t forget, he’s still only 22, and will turn 23 a few weeks into the 2022 season. As with the rest of the returning squad, it will be interesting to see how his role changes with Steve Cherundolo now head coach of LAFC, but I have to expect Cifuentes will be competing to be a starter, if not penciled in as a starter from day one. But if Cherundolo turns him into a No. 10, a marauding box-to-box mid, or keeps him in a similar two-way role he’s been playing, we’ll see.

Obviously we’ve seen young international players come through LAFC so far, and some have been exceptional, some have been terrible, others in between. Cifuentes seems like he’s trending towards the exceptional end of the spectrum, but I think 2022 is a very big season for him. If he performs well and helps LAFC bounce back, he could be the next player in line for a transfer abroad. He does seem to have that capacity, but it’s up to him (and the team overall and the coaching staff to support him) to get it done. I have high hopes for him.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.