After scoring his first goal as a member of LAFC, João Moutinho ran to the corner flag in Sacramento and let out a triumphant shout. It’s probably the loudest thing we’ve heard from the Portuguese defender since his selection No. 1 overall by the Club at January’s MLS SuperDraft.
After the match, it was back to the João we’re more familiar with.
“I saw that I had some space and Carlos [Vela] made me a great pass. I just took the ball, I hit it well, and it went in,” Moutinho said of his goal, the eventual game-winner in LAFC’s first victory.
Ever eager to deflect attention back on the team, Moutinho is quiet and thoughtful when speaking with people. Not necessarily the type of personality you’d associate with a No. 1 overall pick from a professional sports league.
On the pitch, Moutinho’s play is much like his demeanor off it. His style of defending is more cerebral than rough and tumble. He’s more likely to make an important interception than a heavy tackle. His ability to read the game going forward has been an asset down LAFC’s left side thus far in preseason.
And that ability was on display in the buildup to the defender’s first goal.
In the 59th minute, all eyes were on Vela as he possessed the ball with space in midfield. Catching his marker sleeping, Moutinho sprinted 15 yards unopposed down the left channel. With a free run at the Republic defense, the LAFC left back shot a slight glance out wide towards Diego Rossi at the touch line. That glance did just enough to decoy a Sacramento defender creating a clear shooting lane, and Moutinho finished off the move with a pinpoint shot into the lower corner of the net.
But if there’s one knock on Moutinho's game, it’s that his defending in 1v1 situations is at the level of his other attributes.
In the first half against Sacramento, forward Wilson Kneeshaw engineered one of his team’s most dangerous scoring chances by running directly at the LAFC left back. Unable to get a body on the forward, Moutinho was left chasing shadows as Sacramento nearly opened the scoring.
Top SuperDraft pick Joao Moutinho has struggled with 1v1 defense this preseason. pic.twitter.com/dHojld0FhO— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) February 25, 2018
The instance highlighted Moutinho’s need to improve his footwork when defending 1v1. Too often this preseason, the defender has relied on his exceptional recovery speed and team defending when attackers have gotten past his initial reproach. With his slight stature, Moutinho isn’t going to body too many attackers in MLS with success, so he’ll need to be precise in his movements when isolated. That means setting himself up to cut off forwards at the point of attack, instead of relying on physicality to separate man from ball.
Moutinho has the raw skills and in-game intelligence to make an impact in MLS as a rookie. No doubt, Bob Bradley and his staff with continue to work with the defender on fine tuning the weaker aspects of his game. If Moutinho’s ability behind the ball reaches or surpasses his ability going forward, he’ll set a high standard for No. 1 overall picks to come.