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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Latif Blessing

LAFC Original wins domestic double.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Latif Blessing was one of just two players to start and finish all of LAFC’s seasons to date at the club, alongside Carlos Vela. The fan favorite, therefore, played a role in helping LAFC win their historic Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double in 2022.

But Blessing’s season was a departure of sorts under new head coach Steve Cherundolo. Whereas in previous seasons he had been key to Bob Bradley’s midfield, with Cherundolo in charge, Blessing became the first man in midfield out of the starting lineup and while he played in a good deal of games, he turned into a substitute again in his MLS career.

Blessing’s evolution in the league is remarkable. From a winger substitute at Sporting Kansas City and the beginning of his LAFC tenure, Bradley turned him into a central midfielder in a pinch in 2019 and it became a stroke of genius. Blessing certainly was the most improved player in MLS that season, and his ability to combine hard running, defensive tenacity and the occasional attacking burst brought out the best in him. In other times, Blessing filled in as a right back for the black-and-gold — not as successful as the midfield move, but he could do a job if needed. And he could always be pushed back up in attack when LAFC were chasing goals.

But with Cherundolo using the midfield somewhat differently this year, with Ilie Sanchez a dedicated holding midfielder, Kellyn Acosta a No. 8 who stayed back more and Jose Cifuentes a No. 8 who very much pushed up in attack, Blessing still got plenty of minutes but he was the fourth choice out of three, basically. And aside from a run in May and June when he started games regularly, he slid out of the pecking order as the season wore on.

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

Latif Blessing 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 30 16 1,332 0 4 16 4 1 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 196 0 0 5 3 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 33 18 1,528 0 4 21 7 1 0

Rather surprisingly, Blessing didn’t play a minute in the playoffs, as LAFC won their first MLS Cup. I’m rather surprised, even though he had fallen firmly out of the starting XI, he still was a player coming off the bench to provide energy and a little bit of everything late in games. But in the end, he did not feature in the postseason at all.

Even so, the advanced stats were still favorable for Blessing. His FBref.com scouting report graph is all-around good, aside from not scoring.

FBref.com

On the other hand, per ASA’s Goals-added metric, Blessing just about broke average at +0.07. I think ultimately, Blessing’s skillset was not preferred to the players who featured ahead of him in Cherundolo’s system, and I understand the logic. If he fit hand in glove in Bradley’s system, he may be a bit of a square peg in a round hole for Cherundolo, and he won’t be the first player in soccer history to experience that.

Based on the declining playing time, I assumed after the MLS Cup Final, Blessing will be departing, and while it’s still possible, LAFC picked up his contract option for 2023, which surprised me. They may have done that to trade or transfer him, or they may realize that they need a lot of good players if they want to compete next year, since they’ll be playing in MLS, Concacaf Champions League, the U.S. Open Cup and the Leagues Cup. That’s going to be a lot of games.

But Blessing has not been afraid to complain about his playing time or contract in public in the past — for understandable reasons, I might add — and I have to think he wasn’t thrilled to get benched for the playoff run. If he’s still in LAFC’s plans, will he be bought in for 2023? Or will he be moving on before the season starts? Time will tell. It may be the right time to part ways for all sides, but Blessing has been a favorite of LAFC fans since the beginning, and seeing him onstage with Carlos Vela in the victory celebration after MLS Cup, the only two originals left after five years, was poignant in showing how quickly things change but how the important players aren’t forgotten. No matter what happens from here, Latif Blessing has been an important player for LAFC.

Courtesy of LAFC

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