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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Cristian Tello

Well, he won a double!

Philadelphia Union v Los Angeles Football Club: - 2022 MLS Cup Final Photo by Jason Allen/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Cristian Tello was an example of LAFC’s “cup runneth over” in terms of talent additions in 2022. In other circumstances, he may have been celebrated as maybe not a top-tier signing in MLS, but one that would make a great deal of sense and in some cases, make him the marquee name for his MLS club.

In this one, it was an absolute embarrassment of riches to add the 31-year-old to LAFC’s roster in late-August. Tello’s resumé spoke for itself: Coming through FC Barcelona’s system, he was a bit player at the Catalan giants but had a star turn at Porto, followed by a stint at Fiorentina, before really finding his level at Real Betis, not the best of the best club, but a good club where he really settled in and helped raise their level, capping off his stint in Seville with a Copa del Rey title for a rabid fanbase.

But with LAFC having Carlos Vela, a productive Cristian Arango, Gareth Bale added to the mix recently, Denis Bouanga also joining as a Designated Player, AND young legs from Kwadwo Opoku, where was Tello going to play? When?

It turns out, he didn’t play a lot. I’m not sure if LAFC overprepared in case there were injuries down the stretch for the playoffs, if they expected Tello would play more, if he wasn’t yet fit enough to see time, or if things were going well and Steve Cherundolo didn’t want to mess with a good thing. Any of those explanations is plausible, and given LAFC got the job done, winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, largely without Tello’s influence, so be it, right?

Here are Tello’s stats with LAFC in 2022:

Cristian Tello LAFC 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 4 0 94 0 0 4 3 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 1 0 30 0 0 1 1 0 0
Total 5 0 124 0 0 5 4 0 0

When I say he barely played, he truly barely played, and I think the most likely explanation is that Cherundolo didn’t think he was ready for more minutes, combined with other players stepping up. It’s not like Tello looked bad when he did play, he just wasn’t on the field much to really get a sense of whether he’s going to really contribute for this team.

Most of Tello’s minutes came in two games — 50 minutes in the regular season finale against Nashville SC, when Cherundolo was trying to rest players with the playoffs on the horizon, and to give the Catalan a runout. I thought Tello looked sharp in that game, and while he didn’t flip the result from a 1-0 loss, he certainly didn’t look like he was lost or unable to contribute entirely.

The other game was the MLS Cup Final. With LAFC desperate for fresh legs, Cherundolo put Tello on the field for extra time. It was a gutsy call, but I think Tello’s experience in big moments meant Cherundolo had trust that Tello wasn’t going to blow it. In the Best Game in MLS History, Tello battled for 30 minutes, and certainly played a role in winning MLS Cup. Having said that, I think one of the reasons he was brought into the game was with possible penalties in mind, and he took the very first spot kick, which was easily saved by Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. Fortunately, Tello’s teammates bailed him out at the biggest moment, and he won a domestic double in a matter of weeks. Nice work if you can get it.

Tello’s contract situation was truly perplexing, with LAFC not revealing he was classified as a Designated Player for the tail-end of 2022 in their initial announcement but listing him as one in the end. The deal included club options for 2023 and 2024 and they did not pick up next season’s option, so Tello is currently out of contract, although LAFC announced they “are expected to renegotiate his contract.” Considering he was on a $1,725,069 deal (although pro-rated, so he was only paid a fraction of that) for 2022 according to the MLS Players Association, I can absolutely see why LAFC want to renegotiate it to bring the salary down significantly.

Of course, it’s not all about Tello here. Ideally, LAFC could get him to sign a TAM deal and then call it a day, but the player may not take a paycut steep enough to do that. Then, it becomes in large part a waiting game to see what Gareth Bale does. If Bale retires, then that opens things up for Tello, both financially and likely on the field, too. If Bale returns to LAFC (his initial contract is through summer 2023) then LAFC need to see if Bale wants to re-up with LAFC, in which case they must make him a DP. So there’s some DP shuffling in the cards if that scenario happens, and if that’s the case, Tello can’t be a DP himself.

So we’ll see what happens. I think if Cherundolo liked working with Tello in training and the player looked motivated and ready to play a role, it makes sense to bring him back at a reasonable price point. Remember, in 2023 LAFC will be playing in the league, the Champions League, the U.S. Open Cup and the Leagues Cup, and a player like Tello could probably easily make 15 starts even if he isn’t a regular starter. And given his profile, there’s still a solid chance he could become a regular starter for an MLS team, too. But I wouldn’t pay him any money, I’d pay him smart money. So we’ll see. It would be nice to see him actually play an active role next season, but regardless, he came and he won a double, so mission accomplished.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.