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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Ilie Sanchez

Veteran showed he still had plenty in the tank.

MLS: MLS Cup Championship-Philadelphia Union vs Los Angeles FC
The moment after he became an LAFC legend.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, when LAFC signed Ilie Sanchez as a Free Agent ahead of the 2022 season, I wasn’t sure how effective he would be.

On a Sporting Kansas City side the previous five seasons, Sanchez had enjoyed highs there — captaining the side, winning a U.S. Open Cup, hailed as one of the league’s best defensive midfielders — but also lows — playing out of position for significant periods, appearing to be losing a step or three or gritting through injury, as Sporting have been on a gradual slide for a few years.

So when LAFC signed him, I wondered if he had anything left in the tank, and if he could get back to being an effective starter. He did, and how.

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

Ilie Sanchez 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 30 2,678 1 0 16 4 7 1
U.S. Open Cup 2 2 180 0 0 1 1 0 0
Playoffs 3 3 300 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 38 35 3,158 1 0 17 5 7 1

Sanchez missed just two games all season, one where he was rested for the U.S. Open Cup and the other a regular season game where he was suspended. Among outfield players he played the most minutes on LAFC in 2022 across all competitions, and he was on the field every minute of their run in the playoffs. If that’s not durability, I don’t know what is.

And truthfully, Sanchez looked much better on LAFC’s team than his final stretch in Kansas City. First and foremost, Steve Cherundolo played Sanchez in his holding mid role nearly all the time — he did fill in at center back in a pinch, but that was just one game, and in that case, his experience at the position helped the team hold it down for 90 minutes. Otherwise, Sanchez took over Eduard Atuesta’s mantle as the midfielder who stirred LAFC’s drink in possession, initiating the tempo and letting his teammates get the glory in attack.

At the same time, Sanchez matched an MLS career-low in goals production in 2022, with just one goal scored. To be fair, it was a game-winner, and a banger, against Orlando City:

But the “scoring” moment that sealed Sanchez’s place in LAFC lore was his clinching penalty to win MLS Cup for the black-and-gold:

In terms of vocal leadership, I think Sanchez filled a huge hole for LAFC. Giorgio Chiellini’s arrival helped as well, but Sanchez was the guy who would yell directions on the field. He would take responsibility for the team, that’s in part why he deputized as LAFC captain. He would step up to take the penalty needed to win the league title. He would make the last-gasp tackle and hope he got it right, because he knew there was no one behind him in that moment.

As a result, Sanchez being much more of a pure defensive midfielder than Atuesta had been meant that Sanchez made a few mistakes along the way. LAFC were much, much, much better under Steve Cherundolo at not having the defense being hung out to dry while six attackers headed for the goal on the other end all game long. Still, Sanchez had a few shaky moments down the stretch, and after looking imperious through the first half of the campaign, a few lapses entered his game during the back half.

That shows in the advanced stats to an extent. His overall Goals-added mark from ASA was -0.73, second-worst among outfield players on the team. Was that because he took one for the team a few times and took the desperation plays? In at least some instances, yes. However, his defensive metrics in his FBref.com scouting report graph were impressive, as he was strong to verging on elite in several categories.

FBref.com

Sanchez was named an MLS All-Star this year, and it was a deserved honor. I think his on-field performance coupled with the intangibles he brought to LAFC got him some MLS Best XI talk, but he didn’t get the nod on that count and hopefully he can console himself with the Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double.

Sanchez remains under contract to LAFC for 2023 and all things considered, that’s a great thing. He proved me wrong many times over this year, and he looks set to be a key player next season, too. I would hope that with LAFC set to play in at least four different competitions in 2023, there’s more squad rotation, both for his durability and to ensure if he were to miss time, LAFC would have another player able and ready to pick up the slack, but he’s clearly proven he’s still got it and should be able to contribute at least another year, if not longer.

So yeah, I’d say the Ilie Sanchez signing worked out. Here’s hoping there’s more legendary moments left to come for him in an LAFC kit.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.