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Golden Heart: Ilie Sánchez

The veteran midfielder has been an important piece to LAFC’s success this season.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It’s funny how sports works sometimes. A player one team deems not good enough, or ‘past it,’ another team can find value in and get the most out of. For LAFC, that was the case with the offseason addition of veteran midfielder Ilie Sánchez.

After five seasons at Sporting Kansas City, Sánchez was allowed to hit free agency after the team decided to not extend his contract. The reaction was mixed with some viewing him as the heart of that squad, while most felt he had reached his ceiling and given all he could for the club. For the black-and-gold, the 31-year-old was the perfect addition to a squad undergoing a minor rebuild, and looking to add more MLS experience.

Signing on with a two-year contract as a free agent, Sánchez has been everything the team wanted and then some. While he may only have one goal through the first nine matches of the season, his impact comes outside the stat sheet. Sánchez is the one setting the tempo on attack, the one you can usually trace goals back to when trying to find who started the build-up in the first place. For new LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, he's the all important bridge that connects a tough defense with an explosive offense.

“He’s the catalyst. He connects the back to the front. He's gifted technically, can make clever passes, understands the flow of the game because he has a high football IQ” said Cherundolo after the team’s latest 2-0 victory at home over Minnesota United. “He dictates a lot of our play. Part of that is the position, but on top of that Ilie’s personality and his quality defensively and offensively is exactly what we needed.”

That’s been the key. Sánchez has been exactly what the team needs. He hasn't tried to do too much, forced attempts to find himself on the scoresheet, or tried to take on several defenders on his own without need. He’s been a very solid, reliable force in the middle of the park. Having logged 90 minutes in each of his 9 starts, he’s proven to be a player the team can rely on even when — similar to their win against Minnesota this past weekend — the match reaches the final moments when legs are usually at their weakest.

SKC may not have had any more need for a midfielder that can defend, play in the perfect pass, set-up attackers, and provided layers on production to help kickstart goal-scoring opportunities, but LAFC sure found use for that. Good thing too, as it's been a big reason why they sit atop the conference and in the early-season fight for the Supporters’ Shield.

How do you think Ilie has done since his arrival? Leave a comment below!