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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Mamadou Fall

The budding star may already be gone for good.

MLS: Leagues Cup Showcase-America vs Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After being a rare bright spot for LAFC in 2021 after making his MLS debut, teenage center back Mamadou Fall was back for more in 2022.

The Senegalese defender kind of came out of nowhere to become a starter down the stretch for LAFC, as a numbers crunch at the position left Bob Bradley to try what he could to keep things running on the backline. It was a gamble that worked, as Fall showed he was immediately ready for MLS level and so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he was the starter to begin 2022 under new head coach Steve Cherundolo.

But after a sparkling start, Fall was benched almost all of the final two months of his season in Los Angeles, before making a potentially huge loan move in the summer. Everything worked out for the club and possibly the player in the long run, but it remains one of the enduring mysteries of the season for LAFC.

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

Mamadou Fall 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 16 13 1,198 1 1 13 3 6 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 225 1 0 1 1 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 19 15 1,423 2 1 14 4 6 0

Fall’s performances for LAFC were stellar. Paired most of the time with Jesús David Murillo, Fall is an excellent defender considering his age, and he’s exceptional on the ball and in attacking, able to score with his head on dead ball situations as well as with his feet.

Here’s a striker’s goal, to give LAFC a much-needed equalizer early in the season against the Portland Timbers:

Fall played nearly every game for LAFC up until the mid-season break in June, when he only played three more times in 11 competitive games. Why he fell out of the lineup so hard after being such a fixture is unclear.

The advanced stats show he was balling out. FBref.com’s scouting report graph for Fall’s season in MLS is elite almost across the board. You don’t see this sea of green for most players, let alone 19-year-old center backs.

FBref.com

And in roughly half a season of work, Fall amassed a +1.59 Goals+ mark from ASA, good for fourth on LAFC for the year and 41st in MLS outfield players. His numbers were good, his advanced stats were good, based on the eye test he was rolling. So what happened?

I think there are three possible explanations at play. One may be that Fall needed to sit for attitude reasons. He wouldn’t be the first youngster to fancy himself a hotshot and need to be put in check for his work habits. I’m not saying this is what happened, I’m saying it’s possible that played a role in his playing time falling off a cliff. Otherwise, how would you explain going from regular starter to out of the mix?

Well, one alternate explanation was that LAFC knew Fall was moving and they didn’t play him to make sure he stayed healthy. I’ll admit waiting two months with him just hanging out on the bench is kind of odd, but if they thought they were going to get a full transfer for a big fee, well the last thing you want to see is him suffer a major injury to blow up the deal.

The most benign explanation is that perhaps Fall was getting worn out by playing so many minutes, plus LAFC had two more center backs — newcomer Giorgio Chiellini and injury returner Eddie Segura — get back into the fray in the summer. Cherundolo was big on a center back rotation policy in the second half of the season and it worked out well, when fourth choice Sebastien Ibeagha had to start and play 120 minutes in the MLS Cup Final and had a terrific game. In this scenario, I’m still surprised Fall’s minutes decreased so drastically, but you could make a case that it was less a conscious benching and more a rotation/let’s see who’s up for it before each game policy.

In August, Fall was loaned to La Liga fixture Villarreal for the 2022-23 season, and immediately assigned to their reserve team which plays in the Spanish second division. He’s made 15 Segunda division appearances for Villarreal B so far, scoring two goals, so he’s getting regular time in Spain, which is a good sign. He’s also gotten his first team debut, coming off the bench to play in Villarreal’s Copa del Rey rout over Santa Amalia in November. So there’s an outside shot he could get more playing time with the Yellow Submarine’s first team before the season ends.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if the loan deal includes an option for Villarreal to permanently purchase Fall — LAFC retained a right to recall Fall, assuming if he wasn’t getting playing time — but you could very well conceive this being similar to the “loan-to-buy” deal for Diego Rossi with Fenerbahçe. Hopefully Villarreal like him, hopefully they offer a good transfer fee for him, and hopefully LAFC get more funds and a La Liga transfer feather in their cap to keep reloading.

Honestly, I hope this loan deal goes well because I think the sky’s the limit for Fall. Jose Cifuentes has generated a lot of chatter as a fantastic prospect who’s not long for Europe, and while I like his game a lot too, I think Fall is hands down the best European transfer target on LAFC’s books, and probably top three in MLS. He just turned 20, his sample size in MLS is 35 games, not huge but certainly enough to show he’s not just getting lucky with a good game or two, his form is consistently high. On the cusp of joining a La Liga team that plays regularly in Europe and most importantly, will give youngsters playing time, the next step of becoming a starter for Villarreal’s first team could be the next stepping stone where I really think he has a shot to play for one of the absolute elite clubs in Europe. I really think he’s the real deal. Here’s hoping he continues to progress, and proves me right in the long run.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.