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The LAFC Kids Are Alright

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LAFC’s DNA helix has always included two strands: developing young talent and competing for trophies. There are plenty of examples of each, but if this season goes according to plan, 2024 could be a bright illustration of both.

This past offseason, LAFC went from having one of the most experienced rosters in Major League Soccer, to one of the youngest, with an average age of just 25.

Nearly half (45 percent) of LAFC’s opening-day roster consisted of players under 23. By comparison, 29 percent of Seattle’s roster are that young (8 of 28 players), while Real Salt Lake is at 30 percent (six of 20 players). Sporting KC brought just five players to LA last weekend who were younger than 23 (20 percent of its roster).

And these stats about LAFC’s youth movement don’t include one of the most highly touted players in training camp, defender Lorenzo Dellavalle (19), who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Nor does it include attackers Bajung Darboe (17) or Tommy Musto (20).

As LAFC president and General Manager John Thorrington put it recently: “We’ve always been brave about playing young players at this club.” Here’s a deeper look at LAFC’s young guns:

Tomas Angel RSL snow 2024

TOMÁS ÁNGEL
age: 21
jersey number: 21
position: center forward

before LAFC: Ángel is the son of international scout and former Colombia National Team and English Premier League striker Juan Pablo Ángel. Tomás comes to LAFC from Colombian first-division club Atlético Nacional. He starred last year for Colombia’s U20 national team.

preseason: Ángel arrived in LA in late January and started a preseason match against Chicago, slipping an assist to Denis Bouanga. “What you didn’t see today is his finishing ability,” manager Steve Cherundolo said that day. “He’s quite good in front of goal.”

regular season so far: Ángel made his MLS debut on March 2, playing the final 25 minutes of the whiteout game in Utah.

what they’re saying: “Tomy has known about LAFC from its inception. He’s very mature… he has played in a number of big games for Colombia and for Atletico Nacional, one of the biggest clubs in Colombia. Once Tomy gets up to speed and learns the system he will be an asset.” (Thorrington)

Omar Campos SKC 2024

OMAR CAMPOS
age: 21
jersey number: 2
position: defender (left back)

before LAFC: with 114 appearances under his belt for Liga MX club Santos Laguna, Campos (who debuted with the Mexico National Team last year) has top-tier experience that’s uncommon for a player his age.

preseason: Campos opened eyes by starting every preseason game for LAFC, repeatedly overlapping down the left flank, sending crosses into the danger area, and recording an assist against Chicago.

regular season so far: Campos was sublime for 90 minutes against Seattle (one assist, plus several dispossessions and effective build-up passes), and responded to a rough outing in the snow against RSL by turning in a solid performance against Kansas City.

what they’re saying: “Omar is not only a player for the future but one who can come in and have an impact now. He has the potential to be the left back for Mexico [and] the only way he does that is through strong performances with LAFC, which I’m confident he will have. He fits how we play; he’s very good going forward.” (Thorrington)

notes: Campos is expected to appear for Mexico’s U23 side in a friendly with Argentina on March 22.

David Martinez SKC 2024

DAVID MARTÍNEZ
age: 18
jersey number: 30
position: forward/wing

before LAFC: Martínez comes to LAFC from Monagas SC, one of twenty clubs in Venezuela’s top tier. In early February, Martínez played for Venezuela’s U23 team in the CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic competition, scoring a dramatic goal against Argentina in the final stage.

preseason: Martinez arrived at LAFC in late February and did not appear in a preseason match.

regular season so far: Martínez debuted in the snow against RSL, coming on in the 76th minute. His home debut came against SKC on March 9, when he appeared as a late substitute and created transition chances that brought the BMO Stadium crowd to its feet. Cherundolo said afterward that the teenager “brought life to the game.”

what they’re saying: “A very highly ranked global prospect. We were lucky we signed him just before that [Argentina] game because his options increased. He moves very well with the ball, he has very good soccer IQ for his age, he is goal dangerous, he can run with the ball, he can unbalance defenders with his passing, movement and dribbling. He’s someone we’re very excited about, particularly the way we play with our wingers, in a fluid front three.” (Thorrington)

READ MORE:

These under-23 “veterans” played a significant role for LAFC in 2023:

MATEUSZ BOGUSZ
age: 22
jersey number: 19
position: attacking midfielder / forward

before 2024: Bogusz appeared in 28 games (20 starts) for LAFC in 2023, registering three goals and four assists after arriving from English club Leeds United in March.

regular season so far: has started all three games at center forward, scoring the MLS Goal of the Matchday on Feb. 24, against Seattle.

what they’re saying: “We tried Mati in preseason up high and, yes, he's a midfielder playing as a nine [center forward] … Credit to Mati, he accepted the role and has really played well.” (Cherundolo)

Erik Duenas 2024

ERIK DUEÑAS
age: 19
jersey number: 18
position: midfielder

before 2024: The pride of El Monte, a town just east of downtown Los Angeles, Dueñas was one of the first players to join LAFC’s academy, at the U12 level, back in 2016-17. A converted outside back, Dueñas started eight games and made 19 total appearances in 2023.

what they’re saying: “Erik, more than anybody, is an LAFC system player. He knows this system from when he was 12 years old, and it shows. And I'm really excited for Erik to take another step forward.” (Thorrington)

Cristian Olivera SKC 2024

CRISTIAN “KÍKE” OLIVERA
age: 21
jersey number: 13
position: forward/wing

before 2024: made 10 regular-season appearances for LAFC in 2023 (seven starts) and scored two goals. Started all five of LAFC’s postseason games. Came to LAFC from La Liga club Almería. Has earned multiple caps as a member of Uruguay’s senior national team.

regular season so far: has started all three of LAFC’s regular-season games, playing 249 minutes.

what they’re saying: “Kíke, who came in mid-season [in 2023], with the number of games we had it was really hard for him to integrate … I think Kíke will prove to be a phenomenal addition, given his skill set and what he brings to our group.” (Thorrington)

Nathan Ordaz 2024 SEA

NATHAN ORDAZ
age: 20
jersey number: 27
position: forward

before 2024: raised nearby in the San Fernando Valley, Ordaz is a homegrown player who joined LAFC’s academy in 2016-17 and has climbed through the ranks.

regular season so far: has come on as a substitute in two of LAFC’s three matches.

what they’re saying: MLSSoccer.com named Ordaz one of the league’s “must-watch homegrown players for 2024,” remarking: “It's easy to envision Ordaz taking the leap ... The 20-year-old forward scored twice in three Leagues Cup matches last season and knows how to sniff out chances.”

notes: Ordaz is expected to briefly step away from LAFC to play for El Salvador’s senior national team in late March.

LAFC will continue its 2024 regular season on Saturday, March 16, with an away match against Minnesota United. That game will kick off at 5:30 p.m. PT and will be shown live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Fans can also listen in English on 710 AM ESPN Los Angeles and in Spanish on 980 AM La Mera Mera.

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