On Saturday against Real Salt Lake, LAFC scored five times to capture a second consecutive victory to start its inaugural season. Not a single goal came from their center forward. But what if I told you, he was easily the most influential player on the pitch Saturday?
Look, I’m not here to convince you a center forward with five goals in 27 MLS matches is one of the most important players in his side. Actually, I take that back. Because when John Thorrington and Bob Bradley selected Marco Ureña with the third pick in the 2017 Expansion Draft, they knew exactly what they were getting.
And even though the Costa Rican has zero goals through two matches in 2018, Ureña led LAFC’s line against RSL almost without fail on Saturday.
So what good is a forward that doesn’t score goals. Take a look at LAFC’s first goal in its 5-1 romp of RSL.
Diego Rossi will get the glory with his finish, but this assist from Ureña is absolutely on point. More importantly, it’s Ureña’s movement that sets up the whole sequence.
Dropping just a few yards off the center backs, Ureña forces RSL’s Justen Glad to make a split-second decision: either go with the LAFC forward or hold his ground. Glad decides on the former, vacating an area for Rossi to exploit. Ureña picks him out with perfect pass. The match is level, and Ureña picks up the assist.
Jump ahead to LAFC’s fourth goal. Urena won’t be directly involved, but once again, you’ll see exactly what his intelligent movement does for his team.
Ureña drifts just a few yards away from his marker towards the ball in midfield. Once again, Glad decides to follow the Costa Rican. In this area of the pitch, Glad’s decision is probably not the best since Ureña isn’t very dangerous 40 yards from goal, but down 3-1 at the time, the center back has to press the issue.
But once again, Glad’s decision has consequences. Ureña plays a quick lateral ball to Carlos Vela. Vela finds Rossi sprinting into the space vacated by Glad. And LAFC are up 4-1.
And just in case you thought it was all a fluke. Here’s the fifth goal of the day.
Ureña vacates his center forward position. Glad follows him once more. And one final time, an LAFC attacker, Vela, takes advantage of Ureña's occupying of Glad, and it’s 5-1. Game over.
But just to further cement the point. Have a look at Ureña’s passing map from the RSL match. With five key passes, Ureña was on par with RSL designated player and playmaker Albert Rusnak. Rusnak, however, did not have an assist to go with those key passes.
So while Ureña remains goalless with LAFC, it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t generating goals. Could he be sharper in front of goal? Sure. But the Costa Rican’s value at this moment in Bradley’s system lies in his moment and ability to draw center backs out of position, tying all four attacking positions together.
Like I said, Thorrington and Bradley knew exactly what they were getting. And tonight, they’re very happy.