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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Jose Cifuentes

Midfielder has grown leaps and bounds.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Houston Dynamo FC Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Cifuentes had his true breakout season with LAFC in 2022, and after leading them to a historic double, the Ecuadorian midfielder could be on the cusp of greater things in his career.

Cifuentes returned for his third season with the club this year, and each season he has shown growth and become a more integral piece on his team. After a bit of a slow start, he seemed to be in a competition to open Steve Cherundolo’s tenure as a starter at LAFC. But by midseason, he was in full form and becoming one of the most valuable players in the league.

Here are Cifuentes’ competitive stats with LAFC for 2022:

Jose Cifuentes 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 33 26 2,355 7 7 56 23 8 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 228 0 2 4 1 0 0
Playoffs 3 3 299 0 0 9 2 1 0
Total 39 32 2,882 7 9 69 26 9 0

Each season in MLS Cifuentes has built on the season before. In 2022, he had more of a true No. 8 role under Cherundolo, no longer required to do the same two-way role he had under Bob Bradley. As a result, he had the shielding of Kellyn Acosta and Ilie Sanchez, and feasted as an attacking No. 8, capable of keeping possession and pitching in on defense but really becoming a fourth forward on the field at times.

Cifuentes’ best game likely came in the El Trafico clash at home against the LA Galaxy during the regular season, when he had two goals in the 3-2 win.

What do the advanced stats say about Cifuentes’ season? Well, it was damn special, in fact. ASA’s Goals-added metric had Cifuentes incredibly high, third in MLS among outfield players in the calendar year, at +4.46. That’s only behind pure playmaker Carles Gil (+4.52) and 2022 MLS MVP and top scorer Hany Mukhtar (+5.26). On that basis, perhaps Cifuentes should have gotten some heat in the MVP race.

FBref.com’s scouting report graph shows a good season as well. With the caveat that Cifuentes’ defensive prowess is pretty decent if not elite, he is elite across the attacking categories, compared to players across eight comparable competitions.

FBref.com

Based on these, you can see why Cifuentes is being touted as a player not long for Europe, potentially even a direct jump to the Premier League.

It wasn’t just the double-winning season with LAFC that should help Cifuentes’ cause in being moved as soon as January. He also went to the World Cup, and while he did not start any games for Ecuador in Qatar, he did make two appearances off the bench. Cifuentes has been getting regular time with his country, and that should help his cause in getting a work permit if he does move soon.

Having said all that, we’ve certainly heard before about LAFC young stars being not long for MLS, only to see them stick around another six months or year or longer. In the MLS economy, it’s not a surprise if players are touted as “about to leave” and then don’t move right away. Put simply, most MLS teams get lowballed in transfer offers and they either have to turn down lower offers or deal with getting a smaller fee than they were hoping. In LAFC’s case, they signed Cifuentes for a reported $3 million in 2020, so they don’t have an enormous bar to clear if they want to just break even. I think they are hoping to get well over $10 million, but even if they have to settle for, say, $9 million, they would be making a good profit and making up some of the loss they took in selling Brian Rodriguez at a loss, for example.

There’s also a question of fit. Cifuentes has most often been linked to Brighton & Hove Albion in England, and it makes sense why: They already have three Ecuador internationals on their books, they are a Premier League club that scouts very well, and Ecuador is a country in South America whose players remain undervalued compared to other countries’ players. Furthermore, if Cifuentes moved to Brighton, there’s no guarantee he would break through to the starting XI, but he would have about as good a chance as anywhere in that league of getting a fair shot at playing time. In contrast, MLS players who are signed to a truly giant Premier League club are almost certainly going to the reserves, on loan, or they’re going to ride the bench. Brighton gives him a chance to make a quick impact, on a smaller club that has managed to buck the odds and remain fairly competitive in the top flight.

So we’ll see what happens. The chatter has been that Cifuentes is quite possibly moving in January but it’s not done until it’s announced and/or we see him holding a new jersey. When that happens, he’ll join the likes of Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta as LAFC youngsters who excelled with the black-and-gold and then moved on to bigger things. For now, Cifu is an LAFC youngster who has excelled with the black-and-gold, and if he returns for 2023 it certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But I think we all know he’s a special talent and hopefully he gets to keep moving up the levels, because he deserves it. The kind of player you pay to see, and he’s provided plenty of highlights the past few years at LAFC.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.