LAFC have made seven additions to the roster ahead of the 2022 season so far, and they share one common thread between all of them: All have prior MLS experience.
It’s a certain change, and a course correction after several years of trying to stock the roster with young talent, mostly from abroad. Many of those players have become contributors and can be considered MLS veterans themselves at this point, but after a 2020 season where a few key injuries and a COVID outbreak at the worst possible time sunk their MLS hopes, and they came agonizingly short of winning the Concacaf Champions League at the first try, 2021 was a season of perpetual hangover, where all the things that worked for the team kind of just stopped, and the team had their worst season to date.
While LAFC looked shockingly poor in all but a handful of games last year, a new coach and a revamp of the roster was in order and has taken place. And with it, a clear mandate to support the remaining superstar, Carlos Vela, with more players with MLS knowhow, to hopefully help them be successful again.
All of the players acquired could conceivably start in MLS, which is a good sign for starters. While I would not expect goalkeeper John McCarthy to see playing time aside from when Maxime Crepeau is unavailable, he’s got a good number of starts under his belt in this league, 41, while mostly operating as a backup. Meanwhile, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi could be the first attacker off the bench, but the Libyan winger has started little over half of his MLS appearances to date, 49, so he’s capable of starting, too.
Midfielder Ilie Sanchez could be another rotation option, but I do think he’ll see a fair number of starts in midfield, as I project head coach Steve Cherundolo will look to keep the midfield fresh over the course of a season. For what it’s worth, the Catalan has 134 starts in MLS to date. Fellow midfield newcomer Kellyn Acosta has 166 starts in MLS career to date and will likely be projected to start most of the time, especially as he’s only 26.
In defense, Franco Escobar is also 26 and the Argentine has 58 starts in MLS so far, while Ryan Hollingshead has 149 starts in the league. And he got hit by a car one time while being a good samaritan and had to miss a chunk of time.
Crepeau is arguably the biggest addition of the group, not because of his experience (a “mere” 60 starts in MLS) but because of his position and his importance on the field. Goalkeeping has been the enigma of LAFC, from Luis Lopez never staying healthy to Tyler Miller’s crisis of confidence to Kenneth Vermeer’s extreme inconsistency to the revolving door Pablo Sisniega was always involved in. Crepeau was a top three goalkeeper in MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps — if he can maintain that level with MLS, how many points can he preserve or win outright for LAFC? Five? Eight? That makes a big difference for playoffs or seeding come season’s end.
These seven newcomers have a combined 657 starts in MLS in their careers. For the sake of comparison, the returning 21 players on LAFC’s roster at this point have a total of 548 starts in MLS. More than doubling the experience level with a third of the number of players? The strategy is obvious.
Of course, the stats won’t mean anything if the team doesn’t come together, if they don’t get results, if they aren’t successful. Throw in a first-time top flight head coach in Cherundolo, and the guarantees of success are not assured.
But while LAFC have found quite a bit of success in signing players from abroad over the years, the departures in the offseason and the needs in the squad, plus the shortcomings from 2021, means GM John Thorrington has gone a different route to shore up the roster this offseason. Every successful team is a balance of different players — young, prime age, old, foreign, domestic, experienced, not experienced — but LAFC are betting big on MLS experience in 2022. We’ll see if it pays off.
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