Goodbye Cifu

The Ecuadorian midfielder moves on from the club that cradled his ambition and delighted in watching him shine


Some players are more difficult to say goodbye to than others. In José Cifuentes’ case, his move to legendary Scottish first-division club Rangers FC doesn’t warrant a farewell as much as an invitation for his LAFC teammates and supporters to watch “Cifu’s” inspiring story continue elsewhere.

The 24-year-old Cifuentes embodies all the best things about world soccer and about the Club where he rose to prominence. Raised in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, Cifuentes played football in the street with an empty water bottle as a child. Earlier this year he fulfilled a boyhood promise he’d made to his mother by buying her a home. “When I was 13, they told me that I didn’t have the right build to become a footballer,” he told in 2019. “But I never gave up on my dream.”

Cifu signed with LAFC at age 20, shortly after he announced himself to the world with a rocket goal from distance against the United States in the 2019 U20 World Cup. He quickly became one of the top attacking midfielders in Major League Soccer. He leaves LAFC as one of just 10 MLS players under 24 years of age to have registered at least 14 goals and 20 assists.

Cifuentes’ football methodology is to constantly apply pressure and ask difficult questions of defenses. His passes as a member of this Club broke lines, both through the air and on the ground, and his attacking instincts helped define LAFC’s rapid and direct style of play. And just when opponents girded themselves against his elite field vision and distribution skills, he’d rocket a drive, with either foot, past a stunned keeper and into the net.

The legacy Cifuentes leaves in L.A. is that of a disruptor, a goal-creator, and an MLS Cup champion, as well as an example of LAFC’s commitment to finding and developing talented prospects and moving them to top divisions in other countries, particularly prospects from South America.

Part of a trio of LAFC players who made Ecuador’s World Cup roster in 2022, Cifuentes made his home country’s yellow, blue, and red flag a constant presence at BMO Stadium and on the field after victories, draped over Cifuentes’ shoulders.

So enjoy all those Cifu highlights as he heads to Scotland. Reflect back on that gilded 2022 season, in which Cifu began by wearing a stunning new blond hairstyle, and finished by starting all three matches (in his usual dark locks) in the playoff run that ended with LAFC raising the MLS Cup trophy. In between those two moments, Cifuentes gave his number 11 jersey to a new teammate (Gareth Bale) and started wearing number 20, which by the way is how many MLS goals he assisted on while wearing the Black & Gold.

Yes, think of the 102 MLS matches he played, his 80-percent passing accuracy, the nifty half-turns, and the blurry footwork. Treasure the last images he gave us, at his final home match against conference-leading St. Louis, when his team was desperate for a goal, having scored just two in its previous three games. That day encapsulates his time here. In a tense, scoreless match more than two-thirds done, Cifuentes tracked a high ball that was descending toward him -- while simultaneously sensing that Carlos Vela was about to make a run. Because he is Cifu, he sent an arcing rainbow pass on the volley that landed right in Vela’s path. Vela, of course, finished it; BMO Stadium screamed with delight and sighed with relief; and Cifu had once again opened up a game that a moment before had been closed.

He put the victory to bed with a left-footed strike that the opponents’ All-Star keeper could only watch as it zipped by him and into goal. After four remarkable seasons, Cifuentes now walks away from the Club that he filled with cheers, positive vibrations, and appreciative chants of those unmistakable two syllables – “Ci-Fu!”

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