It has been a stellar two seasons from Carlos Vela at Los Angeles FC, with his third season currently on hold, due to the ongoing pandemic which resulted in football taking a backseat, as all health officials across the globe had to go above and beyond their physical limits to cater to those who have contracted the COVID-19 virus. But now that MLS is almost back, with the women’s division being turned into a special one season cup competition to complete the season, LAFC fans would be excited to see their talismanic forward back in action sooner than they had hoped for.
But this period of his dominance in MLS isn’t going to last forever, as MLS’s most valuable player is 31 already, and even though most European superstars come to MLS in the twilight of their career, it will add onto the pressure that vela currently is breezing past to continue to be the league’s best player, with Inter Miami, the latest hotbed for older players to join, and link up with the legendary David Beckham.
This is a recruitment analysis. In this analysis, we will take a look at who can replace Carlos Vela at LAFC, when he eventually does depart from the club, and who LAFC should recruit to fill the gaping hole left by Vela.
There are plenty of potential options who could and probably should be approached from the European continent since they struck gold last time they dipped into the European transfer market. And the commercial success they have had with him also has played into a success. With his name affiliation, has provided positives for both on the pitch, and off it in terms of commercialization.
Diego Rossi would be or could be the ideal replacement for Vela when he does depart, but given his stats and playing style, it would be highly unlikely that a European club doesn’t come knocking at LAFC’s door trying to lure him away from the black and gold. And furthermore, if he has the ambitions of eventually succeeding Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani to lead the line for Uruguay, he himself may have to consider a move away to solidify his credentials by testing himself in a much tougher league by crossing the Atlantic.
Abdoulaye Doucoure – 27 – Centre Midfield/Defensive Mid/Attacking Mid
Having joined Watford from Rennes back in the summer of 2016, it was a slow start for Doucoure in the Premier League as he just made 14 starts and a further 6 appearances of the bench in the league. With his second season proving to be a more fruitful as he bagged 7 goals and 3 assists in the league from 37 appearances (all starts). In 18/19 he had slowed down a bit from the previous goalscoring heights by managing to bag only 5 but had provided more assists in 6, as the goalscoring burden was reduced and shared by the forward line. He has a bit of flair and dynamism in his game, as in his four years at vicarage road, he has been deployed in many roles, and he has come up clutch more often than not, by providing the midfield steel, that every club needs. Over the past two seasons (including the current season so far)–
Doucoure has attempted 2.5 dribbles per match and has completed 1.2 of them. His interception metrics indicated his pressing nature when off the ball, with close to 3.7 interceptions a match. He has maintained a decent passing accuracy of 85.86% in probably the toughest league in the world. Abdoulaye is fairly attack-minded as he has maintained 0.244 expected goals and assists while playing in different positions in midfield, which comes up to a goal involvement every four games, which is pretty good for a midfielder in a midtable side. With 0.975 progressive runs per 90 and 15.6 forward passes attempted per 90, it is safe to say that he aids in attack building while possessing defensive solidity as well. Doucoure has managed to attempt 2.6 long balls a match in a side which doesn’t see much of the ball as they are cramped up and are forced to camp in their own half most of the time.
If he is in their recruitment plans, he would have to be deployed in the hole to maximize his output and although isn’t a well-recognized name across the globe, he does have the potential of becoming a fan favourite as he has achieved at Watford. He also has managed to be selected and be a mainstay at Watford despite having played under 5 different managers in his time here, which should be an added incentive as it signifies his reliability as a player to the boss, no matter who sits in the hot seat.
It would be a hard sell to Doucoure to convince him to switch to LA when he is about to hit the prime of his career and would be hoping for his big move to a European powerhouse playing in European competitions. But if that move fails to turn up, the sight of Californian lifestyle and LA life with the possibility of becoming their highest-paid player might just be enough to entice him from Europe to the USA, as he is no closer to being selected for the national team, with the midfield options stacked for Didier Deschamps.
Probability – Possible but not probable.
Ayoze Perez – 26 – Winger/Forward
Ever since he moved to Tyneside from Tenerife back in the summer of 2014, he has been a reliable option for every manager that has taken the Newcastle united job as he made over 30 appearances in the league in each of his 5 seasons he was there. He slowly grew into a reliable figure in terms of goals and assists as his goal involvement would rise every consecutive year (barring the year they returned to the premier league). In his final season at Newcastle, he was involved in 13 goals across the league and FA Cup in 42 appearances while maintaining an XG of 10.49, which states how well his attributes had developed as he was outperforming his XG by almost 2.5 and provided 2 assists from an XA of 3.29 which could be because of his teammates. But the quality was there in Perez as he got a big move to top 6 challenging Leicester city in the summer of 2019, on the back of his performances of 18/19.
At Leicester, he has maintained his form by scoring 7 in 34 league and FA Cup appearances and assisting a further 5 from an XG of 8.08 and XA of 4.7 respectively. With his intelligence of attacking positioning and runs, he helps to create space for his teammates and often sacrifices his opportunities for the good of the team which bolsters his reputation both in the squad and among the fans.
Perez has a reputation of high work rate with 2.57 interceptions and 8.57 offensive duels contested on average across his last two seasons which explains his pressing game and harassing defenders to commit errors closer to their own goal. He attempts 3.23 dribbles per 90 completing 1.45 which may not be a lot, but does come in a much tougher league compared to the MLS.
With his ability to play in different formations and his positional versatility, it is hard to see why he wouldn’t fit at LAFC with Perez being a like for like replacement for Vela at right-wing. And his attitude and personality have won him plaudits at both Leicester and Newcastle with him establishing himself as a firm fan favourite at Newcastle and a popular figure at Leicester even in his early days. With Perez almost seen as a wildcard signing last summer when snapped up by LCFC, but now is a solid addition to the squad.
Probability – Might just happen.
Federico Bernardeschi – 26 – Winger/Forward
Since his breakout season back in 13/14, Bernardeschi has gone from strength to strength establishing himself at Fiorentina from a young age and eventually joining serial Serie A winners Juventus back in 2017.
Although his game time has diminished since his move to Turin, he had proved that he was an excellent player as he made his international debut back in 2016. He was turning out for La Viola consistently after his loan spell at Crotone, having made 93 appearances for them and being involved in 35 goals.
But in his time at Juventus, although the stats may be against him in terms of goals and assists, the quality is still there for everyone to see, with 3 dribbles attempted per 90 and successfully completing close to 1.4 of them. This may not be as good as what one would expect from a top-quality forward at a European powerhouse, but it does come in a league which has seldom been blamed for its defensive nature.
With a lowly average XG which is close to 5 and XA of 4.57 across his last two seasons, it would be a gamble to try to sign him with just a meagre 11 goal involvements in the said time, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, finances of almost every club have taken a bump, so it would be close to a huge risk to take such an underperforming talent on for a price which will be inflated due to his current club being a super club.
He is versatile and is pretty well known across Europe as he is constantly linked with a move to another big club on the continent, it would probably be unlikely, even for Bernardeschi to want a move to MLS, as it would probably mean his international career is over, due to his switch. It would be feasible for LAFC in terms of the commercial revenue, but if his performances don’t improve, should both parties come to a highly unlikely agreement, he would tarnish the chances of any future acquisition LAFC may pursue from the European market.
Probability – Best to steer away from.
Ishak Belfoldil – 28 – Forward/Winger
The oldest player in our list of options, he is the wildcard option for LAFC, because he could be a very cheap signing compared to others on this list. He has been playing in the Bundesliga since 2017 when he joined relegation battle regulars Werder Bremen but was picked up by TSG Hoffenheim just a year later for a relatively cheap fee. He had been involved in 8 goals in 29 appearances which were enough to convince Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann to add him to his attack.
Belfodil scored 17 from an XG of 13.62 and assisted 3 from an XA of 4.63 in his first season at TSG Hoffenheim in 35 appearances across UCL, BuLi and DFB Pokal. But his second season at Hoffenheim has been injury-hit as he tore his cruciate ligament in early October and is still on the sidelines recovering from it.
Taking on his man 3.66 times a match and being successful in 2.02 of those attempts points to his great ball carrying ability and the flair that he possesses. And a minimum of 4 touches in the opposition box doesn’t speak much for him, but it should be mentioned that he is deployed as a forward in a team which did not focus more on possession-based play in Hoffenheim in 18/19.
With over 8.6 offensive duels a match, it shows his hard work in the opposition half closer to their goal, which is a valuable asset to any coach at the helm and also contesting close to 3.9 loose balls adds to his style of play and something which could be helpful for him to win the fans over with the grit and passion on the pitch.
If LAFC are to consider a move for him, they should do it soon, with his age already close to 30, it wouldn’t be long, before someone else tries and potentially succeeds in luring him away, maybe even to the MLS adding a new chapter to his journeyman like career path.
Probability – Wildcard.
Ondrej Duda – 25
The last option and the youngest one, Duda, a Slovenian international is arguably the option LAFC should be closely monitoring, with Duda currently on loan at Norwich City FC from Hertha Berlin. He moved to the blue side of berlin back in 2016, and had a quiet two seasons, before his excellent 18/19 season in which he scored 11 and got 5 assists from a combined XG+A of 12.8, outperforming it considerably, which explains why after an underwhelming 6 months was loaned to NCFC, in which he has maintained an XG of 2.48 and XA of 2.21 in 20 appearances, which is explained by the fact that he has been playing in underperforming and relegation battling sides in the form of Hertha Berlin and NCFC.
Averaging 2.2 attempted dribbles per 90 across the last two seasons successfully completing 1.03. And having played at a number of positions at across the midfield, his versatility is a prime reason why he can be moulded into the next designated player for LAFC, as he still has a few years till he reaches his prime.
With a decent passing accuracy of 82%, and attempting 1.1 through balls a match, and contesting close to 6.56 offensive duels, the quality is there to mould and extract the benefits of a long term outstanding player in terms of output on the pitch, and eventually, if and when he develops that bond with the fanbase, the same could be seen off the pitch as well.
Probability – Most suitable option.
Although all the options fit on paper after adjusting the necessary points for and against them to find them a place at LAFC, the real question is who will they go after, and how will the signing they make fit in. Would he be better than our suggested picks, will he underperform? No one knows yet. But time will tell what will happen when the inevitable does arrive.