The Los Angeles Football Club has boasted a backline that has been one of the top defenses in Major League Soccer all season. Jesús Murillo has served as the backbone this season, a consistent presence in the middle who has started all 21 games he has appeared in. The growth of young prospect Mamadou Fall, the acquisition of legendary Juventus and Italian National Team star Giorgio Chiellini, the explosive potential of Diego Palacios and Franco Escobar on the outside and the outstanding play of goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau has all contributed to what is, through 25 games, the second-best defense in the league based on goal differential. Only the Philadelphia Union (20), leaders of the Eastern Conference, have conceded less goals than LAFC (24) so far in 2022.
And yet, despite all that success already, the backline could be getting even better down the stretch run. After nearly a year of recovery and rehab following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, Eddie Segura is back on the scene and in the middle of the defense for LAFC.
"I'm very happy to come back and be able to support the team on the field, whether it's a little or a lot of support [playing time wise]," Segura said. "Overall, I'm very happy time for me to be injured is over now. I'm ready to help the team in any way possible. I'm glad to be back out on the pitch."
His teammates are happy for the return of the 25-year-old who already plays with the presence of a battle-tested veteran, and the man LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo calls “Steady Eddie”.
“Eddie is an absolute professional,” LAFC goalkeeper Max Crépeau said. “I’m so happy for him. It was a long injury and long recovery and now we’ve got Eddie back. I’m happy to get the minutes with him and to get to know him in game situations. The flow is nice and easy between us. You see his quality, right? He is really vocal on the field, and it helps everybody around him.”
Before stepping into the starting lineup on Aug. 13 vs. Charlotte, Segura hadn't started a league match for LAFC since July 21, 2021, due to the knee injury. He previously had come off the bench in five matches in 2022, but never playing more than 45 minutes as he worked his way back to full fitness.
With a condensed schedule in August and the veteran Chiellini being cautious as he works his way back to full fitness, Cherundolo recently challenged Segura with consecutive starts on a quick turnaround. After putting in a full 90 minutes in the 5-0 win against Charlotte on Aug. 13, Segura played 83 minutes in the 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Aug. 16, emphatically answering any questions about his ability to rejoin the LAFC defense.
"We asked a lot of Eddie, to get two starts in with a quick turnaround, Saturday to Tuesday,” Cherundolo said. “I thought he was fantastic. His passing was excellent, he made great decisions, and made big plays defensively. In the end, he looked a little fatigued, which was absolutely normal after throwing him into two starts in a row with such a quick turnaround. I'm very pleased with Eddie. He is, with every minute he's on the field, getting back to being [the consistent player he can be]. He has a little more experience now, which will make him even better."
Playing 173 solid minutes of defense coming off a major knee injury is no simple task, but Segura has made it look like it is over the past four days. His positioning, particularly against D.C. United was outstanding. As Cherundolo said, Segura's decision making allowed him to kill United attacks without moving much, but his mobility was also on display during several forays into the attack when the situation called for it. Adding a healthy Segura to a backline of young players forced to grow up quickly in his absence gives LAFC a defense that is as formidable as the team's attack is potent.
After the D.C. United match, Segura spoke highly of his fellow defenders, implying that the challenge is his to play up to their level.
"It's much easier, because their work is noticeable, you know. At the same time, it is a challenge. They are playing at a great level, and I have to be up to par in order for us to be competitive,” Segura said. “They've made it easier for me to adapt and easier for me to get the work done. [Murillo] has improved since last season and during this season. He's playing at a high level, and I can definitely see the ways in which he's grown in the past year."
With Segura back in the fold, LAFC have a wealth of options it can employ on its backline. With just nine games left in the season, Segura is back just in time to help the Black & Gold finish the season on a high note. LAFC is already on the verge of qualifying for the postseason, but a strong finish will secure the second Supporter's Shield in Club history and set the team up for a run at the MLS Cup. LAFC has outscored the opposition 19-5 on its seven-match win streak, and Segura wants to see the team maintain that form through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
"As a team, we definitely want to show how solid our defense is. We compliment the offensive group that we have very well," Segura said. "In this moment, we've found the balance of pairing a strong defense with a potent offense. We have to keep working hard and make sure we finish the season that way."