2020 hasn’t been an ordinary year for anyone. Neither has it been for LAFC. Only one year ago LAFC soared to unimaginable heights having the single greatest record setting regular season in the league’s history only to fall one match sort of reaching MLS Cup Final. It was a crushing blow and many pundits assumed the high bar of expectations and the roster would remain.
No one could imagine LAFC the following year. The moves made by LAFC General Manager John Thorrington in the offseason weakened the team. Letting go of goalkeeper Tyler Miller and center back Walker Zimmerman proved costly for the club defensively. The veteran 34year old Dutch goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, brought in to replace Miller as the starting goalkeeper, gave up 16 goals in 8 matches and lost his spot to backup goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega.
The 2020 MLS Season
Throughout the MLS Is Back Tournament and the regular season, LAFC fielded a starting eleven that lacked chemistry of players that were either sold in the offseason or unavailable due to injury, or in quarantine. Even though Carlos Vela returned from his Grade 2 MCL Sprain in time for the playoffs, he wasn’t at his best to carry the team on his shoulder the way he did all through the 2019 season.
Instead of falling one match short of MLS Cup Final like the year prior, LAFC sputtered out of the playoffs to the reigning MLS Cup Champions Seattle Sounders in the first round of the playoffs. With an underperforming MLS season concluded, this offseason may not see an immediate turnaround that LAFC supporters want to see happen.
On Tuesday December 1, LAFC announced their final roster moved ahead of the offseason. Defenders Jordan Harvey, Dejan Jakovic, and Mohamed El-Munir are all out of contract guaranteeing the defensive backline to be shaken up further. But perhaps the biggest damage may not be in the defense but in the offense.
Veteran 35-year-old English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips was signed as a free agent the previous offseason replacing Adama Diomande as the club’s super-substitute striker off the bench playing for a team in urgent need of experience and stature. The resurrection of his old form was to be only short-lived. Wright-Phillip’s option wasn’t picked up at the conclusion of the 2020 season and once again is eligible to test free agency.
Wright-Phillips is a depth piece in the front three of LAFC’s 4-3-3 formation, but both Uruguayan wingers 22-year-old Diego Rossi and 20-year-old Brian Rodriguez are starters crucial to the club’s success. With Vela declining to participate in the MLS Is Back Tournament and injured majority of the regular season, the responsibility of supplying the goals fell on Rossi’s shoulders. He went on to become MLS’s Golden Boot winner for 2020, scoring 14 goals in 19 regular season matches. His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed recently getting call ups with the Uruguayan National Team even drawing interest from major clubs in Europe.
Rossi at 22 is not even in his prime years as a professional soccer player, which the prime years is considered to be from 27 years old to 33 years old. Rumored to be MLS’s largest export by sources, it’s only a matter of when not if Rossi is sold at a price LAFC finds reasonable.
The same could be said with Brian Rodriguez. Not nearly as productive as Rossi or Vela in goals scored, Rodriguez is still lethal. This season, he led LAFC in assists with 7 to his name. Getting his first appearance with the senior national team of Uruguay back in September 2019 also has benefitted his career. Since then, Rodriguez has appeared in 8 matches and scored three goals with Uruguay.
Two weeks ago, MLS reported that Portuguese club S.L. Benfica have also given interest in acquiring Rodriguez’s services from LAFC. This report comes already when months earlier, it was reported from fan page “Angels on Parade” that legendary Italian club AC Milan were in talks with Rodriguez’s agent Pablo Betancur. Other Italian clubs in Serie A such as Napoli, Sampdoria, and Bologna had shown interests well.
Heck, even Ghanaian midfielder Latif Blessing who was brought to LAFC in the 2017 MLS Expansion Draft was rumored to be drawing interest from Brazilian club Vasco da Gama back in October. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this problem out and the writing is clearly on the wall.
Concern for The Future
It’s clear, if a team offers a transfer fee to acquiring a player from LAFC with a price that LAFC’s management finds suitable, they will accept the transfer. Trading away center back Walker Zimmerman to Nashville and goalkeeper Tyler Miller to Minnesota United proved it. Since then, the club’s backline and goalkeeping situation has been weakened and there hasn’t been emphasis on strengthening the defense made by management so far. Letting Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi go on transfers with no plans to replace them with players at their skill level or better in return, could in fact damage LAFC further setting the club back years from competing for an MLS Cup if no action is taken by management.