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The magic of Mahala

LAFC’s newest rising star

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one position group that has always been strong for LAFC, it’s the forward position. Not only do you have the locally-appointed king of LA in Carlos Vela, but over the last couple of years there have been the likes of Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, and most recently goal-scoring machine, Cristian Arango. Yet, just a handful of matches into the season and one name has stood out more and more. Kwadwo Opoku.

The 20-year-old forward from Ghana arrived at LAFC in late 2020. While not much was known about the Ghanaian youth International upon his arrival, he wasted little time in making sure everyone knew he was one to keep eyes on. Despite limited minutes as he settled into his new club, he made undoubtedly the biggest impact, and had the biggest moment of the season. Despite playing less than 100 minutes that year, Mahala was able to tally one assist during MLS play. However his biggest moment came in the Concacaf Champions League where he not only netted his first goal for the black and gold, but netted a goal that lifted the team past a tough Cruz Azul side, punching their ticket to the semifinals. The team would eventually lose in the Finals, but they wouldn't even of had their lone finals appearance if not for the huge moment from the young, new arrival.

2021 was a bit of a rough patch for Opoku. While he did make four appearances, with two starts, and bagging another assist for LAFC, he also suffered an injury that kept him out most of 2021. When he did start his return, he spent a lot of time working his way back to fitness getting playing time for USL affiliate, Las Vegas Lights. Then Head Coach for the Lights, and now taking the helm at LAFC, Steve Cherundolo must have liked what he saw from Opoku.

2022 is being set up as a real breakout season for the now 20-year-old. Despite most matches being played behind closed-doors, you couldn't keep the whispers about Opoku quiet. Not only did he feature a majority of the preseason, but he found himself on the scoresheet on multiple occasions. That momentum has carried over into the season.

At the moment, 2021 goal-scorer supreme, Cristian Arango, is working his way back into fitness after an injury sustained late in the preseason. That has opened the door for Mahala to not only get more playing time, but finally cracking into the Starting XI. Opoku has gotten the start in three of the four matches played so far this season. This past weekend — in the team’s 3-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps — he logged a full 90 for the first time at LAFC.

His stats may not jump off the screen upon first glance. 78 passing percentage, one goal scored, and just over 260 minutes logged so far in 2022, but doing so much more when actually watching a match. Yes, there have been some growing pains as he continues to build chemistry with those around him, but you can't deny his impact. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is, when he's out there, you don't feel like the attack is lacking. There are no “wish we had so-and-so available instead” moments. Sure, fans are curious about why Arango has been unable to log a full 90 yet this season, but Opoku is slowly opening more eyes to the prospect of seeing more of him.

“Mahala is somebody that gives us a deeper threat, he gives us some physical qualities at that position that are always important to this game” said Head Coach Steve Cherundolo. “He has some 1v1 ability and we saw in Miami he can finish as well. Everything about him is goal oriented. Whether its his movement, shooting, passing, everything is working towards goal and that’s exactly what we’re looking for. I’ve been happy with his progression.”

Mahala isn’t just a player for the future, but one for right now. A player who is talented enough to deserve a fair amount of playing time, but still young enough to build around. To help develop into a player ready to shine on the world stage. It’s only a matter of time before the comfort turns to confidence and the goals start flowing. Once that happens, Kwadwo ‘Mahala’ Opoku will be a name penned in the Starting XI, and known in households everywhere.

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