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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Sebastien Ibeagha

Absolutely showed up when LAFC needed him most.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

There are some players who enjoy a nice, long career as a professional athlete, with no performances standing out particularly from others. And there are those who play a legendary game and no matter what else may come, they can always hang their hat on that unforgettable performance.

Sebastien Ibeagha ultimately played 35 competitive games for LAFC across a season and a half, and the central defender was exactly as billed throughout — an experienced, smart depth defender. But he also had the legendary performance, as the man picked to start in central defense in the MLS Cup Final — a somewhat surprising turn of events, but Ibeagha was immense as LAFC just barely edged the Philadelphia Union in the greatest game in MLS history.

Ibeagha returned in 2022 for his first full season with the black-and-gold, and after being an emergency addition in 2021 after Eddie Segura went out for the season with a torn ACL, new head coach Steve Cherundolo’s policy of rotating his central defenders ended up being a boon this year for Ibeagha. He wasn’t used in the opening weeks of the season, with Jesús David Murillo and Mamadou Fall taking the starter’s minutes, but once the U.S. Open Cup arrived for LAFC, Ibeagha became a cup starter and worked his way into the reckoning.

Here are Ibeagha’s competitive stats with LAFC in 2022:

Sebastien Ibeagha 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 17 12 1,183 0 0 5 0 4 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 270 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 2 1 165 0 0 1 1 1 0
Total 22 16 1,618 0 0 6 1 5 0

With Segura returning in the summer, at long last, you might have thought that Ibeagha’s playing time would be even more limited but the opposite happened. Murillo was the biggest fixture of the group, but Fall was benched before being sent out on loan and Giorgio Chiellini joined the mix. Most of Ibeagha’s minutes came in the early summer before Chiellini arrived and Segura rejoined the lineup, but he was used periodically throughout the campaign.

Chiellini picked up a knock in the Conference Championship against Austin FC and Ibeagha played out the game. Then, with MLS Cup looming, bad news, potentially for LAFC: Segura was hurt and did not seem able to credibly play major minutes, while Chiellini’s knock was not resolved, either. In the biggest game of LAFC’s history, Cherundolo paired Ibeagha and Murillo together, and Ibeagha held up his end of the bargain as LAFC played a crazy 3-3 draw through 120 minutes that was won on a penalty shootout over the Union. Yes, the LAFC defense allowed three goals on the day but the 30-year-old Ibeagha, who had only been a rotational starter in MLS, stepped up to show that he belonged in the moment, and there was no drop-off in LAFC’s defensive performance because again, he had been seeing time throughout the season.

Most coaches don’t do the rotation of center backs quite like Cherundolo did but in the end, he was absolutely vindicated because he kept Ibeagha ready for the title game. And credit to Ibeagha for staying ready and holding it down as LAFC clinched the double for 2022.

It’s a great way to ride off, and Ibeagha leveraged his great game (and tenure) with LAFC into a free agent deal with FC Dallas ahead of the 2023 season that should give him a realistic shot to be a starter and to get paid. I don’t begrudge him one bit — he’s 30, Dallas need capable center backs and don’t have the glut LAFC have, and he’s from Texas so he’ll probably enjoy going back home.

At the same time, I understand why LAFC were using him as a rotational piece. His Goals-added number according to ASA on the season was -1.44, worst among LAFC players, and the advanced stats per FBref.com were at best average, his defensive marks in some categories very low. The underlying numbers show some real limits to his game.

FBref.com

But I don’t want to end his season review on a sour note. The truth is, no matter what the numbers say, no matter what the circumstances, some players are asked to step up in the big moments, and in the MLS Cup Final, Ibeagha absolutely did that. For that, he played a key role in landing LAFC’s first MLS Cup and domestic double, and now that he’s moving on, we should thank him for his time in black-and-gold and remember him for that one game in particular, where he wrote his name in LAFC lore. Best wishes, Seb.

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