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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Cristian Arango

They stayed the course with Chicho and it paid off.

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

Cristian “Chicho” Arango returned for his second season with LAFC in 2022, his first full season at the club, and for the opening months of the season, it sounded like LAFC wanted to push him out the door, believe it or not.

Arango led LAFC in scoring in 2021, despite playing only half the season, and he was voted MLS Newcomer of the Year as he tried to carry the black-and-gold over the finish line to the playoffs. It didn’t happen, but he seemed like the consistent No. 9 LAFC have been trying to find since the beginning.

Instead, it looked like the “exploding drummer syndrome” with LAFC strikers was rearing its head again as the season started. Steve Cherundolo hinted in the opening weeks of the season at a knock that had limited Arango, and then his fitness wasn’t up to par, and then he didn’t defend well enough from the front. And while LAFC never officially said they were shopping Arango, credible reporters, most notably ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, were saying loudly and often enough that Arango was on his way out that it defied belief. LAFC had a good run of No. 9s who produced, in Adama Diomandé and Bradley Wright-Phillips, but each of them left in relatively short order. Why force the same scenario with Arango? At a certain point, LAFC were bound to hit a dud if they kept ditching scoring strikers.

Arango did get off to a slow start to the season, splitting his time between coming off the bench and starting, and not scoring in his first five games. He slowly found some traction, and most importantly, as the season wore on, he became more productive and solidified his place as a central player under Cherundolo.

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

Cristian Arango 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 28 2,353 16 5 108 47 4 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 214 3 0 8 5 0 0
Playoffs 3 3 234 2 0 11 5 0 0
Total 40 34 2,801 21 5 127 57 4 0

Arango had a lot of good goals in 2022, considering he had over 20, but if you had to pick the biggest highlight, it was obviously the playoff winner over the LA Galaxy, in stoppage time, in front of The 3252, with the epic celebration where he ran into the stands to kiss his partner.

Ultimately, there was no replacement brought in for Arango, and there didn’t need to be. Amid a spending bonanza midseason, LAFC added Gareth Bale, Denis Bouanga and Cristian Tello, but none of them are true No. 9s, and Arango was red-hot over the second half of the season, ultimately in the top 10 in the league in scoring. He ended up playing in every competitive game for the black-and-gold, as they won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, and he must have earned Cherundolo’s trust in the end, because the manager was very complimentary of the Colombian around the end of the campaign, and rightly so.

The advanced stats also demonstrate that yes, obviously, Arango had a good season. His Goals-added mark from ASA was +1.51, in the top 50 among outfield players in MLS, and his FBref.com scouting report graph was a sea of green in the categories you’re paying central forwards to perform in.

FBref.com

At 27, Arango should still have several prime years ahead of him, health permitting, and again, LAFC could really stand to have some stability in the No. 9 position as long as the player there is productive. Before contracting COVID at the turn of the year, he was on the cusp of earning a call-up to the Colombian national team, and I think he still has a shot of breaking through there, considering Colombia’s international prospects have taken a nose-dive in the past few years. With Concacaf Champions League and Leagues Cup coming up in 2023, Arango should get some run against Liga MX opposition, and that can be a good platform to impress his national team anew. For LAFC, he’s clearly got a knack for scoring in MLS, and long may it continue.

I think above all, whether it was some kind of grand motivational tactic or LAFC were really looking to send Arango out, in the end the right thing happened, he put his head down and worked, ensured he was a key member of the team, and earned the trust of the right people. Here’s hoping he continues to bang in the goals for the black-and-gold and hopefully we’ll see some more trophies for LAFC while he’s around.

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