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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Kwadwo Opoku

The breakout player of 2022.

MLS: Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Finals-Austin FC at Los Angeles FC Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Kwadwo Opoku returned for his third season with LAFC in 2022, and rather against the odds, he broke through to become part of the first team core as they won a domestic double.

The Ghanaian originally signed with LAFC in 2020, and after seeing spot duty in his rookie season, capped off with a golazo in the Concacaf Champions League win over Cruz Azul, the player nicknamed Mahala endured a difficult 2021 season, suffering a knee injury and not returning to action the rest of the year. Heading into 2022, it was unclear if the forward would remain in LAFC’s plans under new head coach Steve Cherundolo.

He did, and how. From a prospect getting a few minutes here and there, Opoku became a key part of LAFC’s attack, rotating between starting as a wide forward and coming off the bench to give the black-and-gold a late spark and change of pace. In the process, he had a career year, playing in every single LAFC game this year.

He was able to impact games both from starts and off the bench. Opoku had four goals and three assists in starts across all competitions, and four goals and one assist off the bench. As a player who can create his own shot, but in a way very different than Carlos Vela, for example, he truly did provide a profile that was versatile and ensured the playing time came week in and week out.

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

Kwadwo Opoku 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 34 20 1,770 7 3 58 25 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 206 0 1 2 0 0 0
Playoffs 3 0 74 1 1 2 1 0 0
Total 40 22 2,050 8 5 62 26 0 0

As an example of Opoku taking advantage of the moment, he catches the defense fall asleep, makes the run and isn’t afraid to shoot, for his first goal of the season in the road win over Inter Miami.

Here’s a goal where Opoku makes the smart run, gunning for the far post on a breakaway. Cristian Arango does well to get the ball to Mahala, who had a bit of work to do to make sure he was composed enough to get it in the net, which he did.

He came off the bench in all three playoff games and capped off the Western Conference Championship with this goal, in which he pounces on a mistake and hits a perfect one-timer.

You get the idea. You can see why Opoku, even with some long odds on a very talented LAFC roster, maintained his place in the squad. Cherundolo had a lot of options, including several options among the forwards who weren’t starters but could play some minutes, like Danny Musovski, Cal Jennings and Christian Torres, and Opoku ended up taking nearly all of those minutes. Musovski was traded, Torres remained on loan all season and Jennings nearly all season. Not only did Opoku get the reserve forward minutes, he was more than able to start and link up with Vela, Arango, Brian Rodriguez and Denis Bouanga and find his role on the fly with minimal issue.

The advanced stats on Opoku’s season show some mixed results, which was a tad surprising. ASA’s Goals-added metric had Opoku at -0.31 for the regular season and playoffs, so basically a tick below average. But his FBref.com scouting report graph was very good. He’s not much of a defender or a passer, but in terms of progressing the attack and offensive output, he was exceptional compared to players in his position across eight comparable competitions.

FBref.com

Opoku remains under contract for 2023, and barring a good transfer offer from abroad, I expect he’ll be serving much the same role next year. He’s 21 and seems to have a grip on MLS, and with the black-and-gold playing in multiple competitions (league, U.S. Open Cup, Leagues Cup, Concacaf Champions League) next year, he’s exactly the kind of player they’ll be calling upon to step up and score a few winners along the way. I’m not sure what his ceiling is at this point — his goals average in 2022 was very roughly a goal every four games or so — but if he can become more clinical, even amidst the talent on the LAFC roster, then he will continue to force Cherundolo’s hand to keep playing him. It’s clear he played a key role in a successful season for LAFC, and I’m excited to see how his game progresses from here.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.