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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Diego Palacios

Left back took a step forward in double-winning season.

MLS: Houston Dynamo FC at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Diego Palacios has been touted as LAFC’s next big young star since he joined in 2019, and I think there’s been some wondering if he may not quite reach the heights expected of him. Now, it seems he’s on the right path.

Remember, LAFC had to beat out FC Barcelona, the one in Spain, to sign Palacios, and the player smartly understood that a move to MLS was best for his development. Instead of possibly flaming out in Barcelona and then trading on the connection to that club for the rest of his career, he could try and work his way up, and see how far he gets. That’s a pretty refreshing approach, in a line of work where off-the-charts self-confidence is needed to help athletes ignore the noise and succeed.

After a run to the Concacaf Champions League final in 2020 where Palacios was rightly heralded as a breakout star, his 2021 campaign was more rocky, with Bob Bradley benching the left back at one point during a forgettable season for the whole team.

But with former fullback Steve Cherundolo the new LAFC head coach in 2022, it was a fresh start for Palacios, and he took advantage to lock down the left back position pretty much for good, aside from a handful of games when Ryan Hollingshead played in the Ecuadorian’s spot.

Here are Palacios’ competitive stats with LAFC in 2022:

Diego Palacios 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 28 27 2,408 1 7 14 5 8 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 210 0 1 1 0 1 0
Playoffs 3 3 295 0 1 2 2 1 0
Total 34 33 2,913 1 9 17 7 10 0

Palacios had shown an ability to chip in on the attack in the past, but that part of his game was muzzled in 2021 with the much more attacking Kim Moon-hwan on the right leaving Palacios pinned back to provide cover. Under Cherundolo, this lopsided system went away, and both fullbacks were given license to bomb forward when the time was right, while still taking their defensive responsibilities seriously throughout.

As a result, it was a career year on the attacking end for Palacios, whose seven assists in league play smashed his previous best, and who finally scored a goal for LAFC.

But we can’t forget, Palacios also set up the single most important goal in LAFC history to date:

So, it was a good year on the attacking side for the defender.

On the advanced stats front, Palacios had a good season. He was 30th among outfield players in MLS in ASA’s Goals-added metric, at +1.88, and his FBref.com scouting report graph shows a sea of green in most categories, with his tackles and interception rates outstanding and his skills in progressing the attack evident.

FBref.com

Palacios was named an MLS All-Star in 2022, and set up LAFC teammate Carlos Vela to open the scoring in that game, and I think MLS’s lack of a Second XI team hurt Palacios, as Kai Wagner had possibly the best season by a defender in MLS history and well, there’s only one left back on the field at a time, and Wagner justly earned Best XI honors. But aside from that supernova of a season, Palacios had a terrific year and played a key role in winning both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.

Palacios also went to the World Cup with Ecuador, but unfortunately was an unused substitute in La Tri’s three-game run in Qatar. I’m not really surprised he didn’t play, not because I don’t think he should but because Palacios gets called up every window and seldom actually sees the field. He’s a youngish guy still, he’s got to earn his playing time, but on some level it must rankle LAFC to see Palacios get called up, fly all over the world to participate in training, and then fly back to Los Angeles, again and again.

Now 23, I think 2023 could be a big year for Palacios. Given he’s not a regular for Ecuador but does keep getting called up, I think he may draw transfer interest abroad, but I don’t think he’s likely at the front of the line among LAFC players as transfer targets, with Jose Cifuentes and Mamadou Fall more likely to draw tangible interest. Still, left back is a tough position to fill on many teams, and that presents a double-edged problem for LAFC — it may mean a team will make a bid in the near-term future because they need a left back, possibly sooner than expected, but it’s also kind of tough to fill that position once it’s vacated, too. I certainly expect if LAFC get an offer they like they’ll take it, but the club has had a lot of good fortune at left back in their history, with Jordan Harvey and Palacios the regular starters and even a supremely talented player like Mohamed El-Munir was surplus to requirements and pushed out. Hopefully that good run of good left backs continues whenever Palacios departs, and he’s under contract to the black-and-gold next year, and I expect he’ll be with the club at the start of the campaign at the very least.

But it’s nice to see after a down 2021 season in some respects that Palacios had his best season to date in 2022. I think there’s still growth left in his game, and I think he can dream of a future where he goes to a better league for a bigger challenge. As a key player on the 2022 squad, he deserves to climb higher, and hopefully it will eventually work out for him and the club alike whenever he does depart.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.