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LAFC 2021 Player Postmortem: Cristian Arango

MLS Newcomer of the Year tried to carry LAFC to playoffs.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Cristian Arango was the big success story of LAFC’s 2021 season, period.

The Colombian was a somewhat surprise swoop by the black-and-gold in the summer transfer window, the club otherwise seeming to stand pat with their international signings to that point in the season, but with Diego Rossi’s move to Europe imminent and Carlos Vela struggling with injuries, Arango was a no-brainer addition as the club’s starting central striker.

While he had briefly moved to Europe himself, that move didn’t work out and he returned back to Colombia, where he had a successful stint with Millonarios. In fact, he didn’t seem thrilled that Millonarios sold him to LAFC, because he had found a home, but like most teams, the club needed the money and on he went.

Happily, Arango settled pretty quickly. After not scoring his first three games in MLS, he scored in 10 of his final 14 games for LAFC, including three multi-goal games. He finished in the top 10 in scoring around MLS, playing far fewer games than the players who finished ahead of him in goals, and he was second in MLS in goals per 90 minutes, at .90.

Here are Arango’s stats with LAFC in 2021:

Cristian Arango 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 17 15 1,400 14 2 63 32 5 0

Even though LAFC fell off a cliff in 2021, Arango’s exploits were good enough to make him MLS Newcomer of the Year, and given his stats in a half season, it makes sense. He kept the team afloat even as their playoff chase faltered, and it’s safe to say if he wasn’t in the squad, with Rossi gone and Vela on the shelf most of the homestretch, LAFC’s quest for the postseason would have ended weeks earlier. With goals suddenly hard to come by, Arango was the MVP supplying their main hope — and production — game to game.

Arango did play a ton in 2021, between his Colombian exploits and those in MLS, so a break was deserved. Now, can he maintain his scoring rate?

It’s worth noting that Arango only recently seemed to hit a vein of form. Prior to 2020, he had never scored double-digit goals in a league season. The last two years, he’s scored 31 in 54 games, a good rate but not the eye-popping one he’s had to start his MLS tenure.

A couple things can be true — MLS may suit him, and may make his goal rate stay pretty high, and a good scoring rate over two seasons may be sustainable enough to think he can be a pretty reliable scorer in the long haul. But there has to be a little bit of concern that he hit his richest vein of form, and it may not return like this again. Especially when MLS opponents all face him and get used to playing him, is he good enough to continue outfoxing them and scoring?

I bring this up not to be a downer but it is worth pondering. I hope he continues to stay hot and scoring regularly, he filled a major hole for LAFC that hadn’t been filled since Bradley Wright-Phillips left. LAFC has had a few productive center forwards who have started brightly and burned out fairly fast — in addition to BWP, there was Adama Diomande in this category — so hopefully Arango bucks this trend and continues to be productive. With an offseason of rest, a new head coach and hopefully some reinforcements in attack, we’ll see what happens for the striker in 2022.

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