“Like a maestro.”
André Horta doesn’t skip a beat before saying he's kidding after being asked to describe his playing style. But it’s that type of joke you can tell has more than a sliver of truth to it. Especially when you hear LAFC head coach Bob Bradley talk about the Club’s third Designated Player.
“A young player that’s exciting. A young player that in the midfield controls games,” Bradley said having followed Horta for quite some time in Portugal before the player signed with LAFC. “He understands the rhythm. Sets up teammates. I kept thinking he’s going to be a guy that’s going to fit very well at LAFC.”
When soccer nerds, like myself, hear a quote like that from a coach about player with a pedigree like Horta - Benfica youth system, Portuguese Youth National Teams, Braga standout, the list goes on - we immediately turn to the Internet. We’re all guilty of the YouTube highlights dive, even if the videos are laden with questionable music and only a keyhole view of a player’s actual abilities.
But Horta’s appeal is evident, even at a cursory glance.
The midfielder is a bit of a swashbuckler. The type of player that runs full tilt into crowded areas and somehow manages to come out the other side with the ball. Horta's mazy dribbles have a palpable energy to them, as he carves up defenses. His shots from distance a canon-like quality. And his range of passing presents danger to opponents wherever he is on the pitch.
Before signing with LAFC, the third Designated Player in Club history was the worst-kept secret of MLS rumors.
“Getting things finalized with André just took time. That’s because at a certain point with Braga, he was playing so well and the team was winning.” Bradley said. “It just made things more difficult. But that was certainly a good problem to have.”
Despite the snags to the deal, GM John Thorrington persisted. Many hours of phone calls, international flights, late nights, and drawn-out rounds of negotiations later, the deal was done. Horta would join LAFC. But when?
“It’s rare to have a player of his age, quality, experience, background,” Thorrington said of Horta. “We just thought he’d be a great fit for how we play, and not just day one but into the future. His signing was very much with the short, medium, and long-term future in mind.”
Thorrington continued to sort out the arrival of his young signing, negotiating a possible early release from Horta's yearlong loan at Braga. In the meantime, LAFC got off to a historic start.
Four away wins in six matches on the road to start the season set a new precedent for expansion sides MLS. Through 10 matches, LAFC racked up 20 points, the best of any expansion team in the history of MLS. All the while, Horta followed LAFC closely from abroad.
“It was a little bit complicated, but I think I just saw three games,” Horta said of following LAFC in Portugal, while admitting it was easier to keep up with the team’s progress via LAFC’s social media channels. “It’s complicated because any time that I see the games it’s 3am or 2am in Portugal. So, I can’t see the games when I have training the next morning or if LAFC has a game Saturday at 3am and I play that night. I can’t wait I have to sleep. But I made an effort to see the games and follow the team. It’s no problem for me.”
Unable to come to terms with Braga on Horta’s early release before the close of the MLS primary transfer window, LAFC had to be content with waiting.
Still in Portugal, Horta continued to thrive. The Primeira Liga Player of the Month in March, just 11 days after the close of the primary transfer window. He helped propel Braga to within three points of a Champions League place. And in the process, Braga seriously threatened to break into Portugal’s “big three” of Benfica, Porto, and Sporting Lisbon.
But even as Braga courted him to remain in Portugal, Horta had made up his mind of where he needed to be the following season.
“I wanted to have a new experience out of Portugal. Go abroad,” Horta said. “LAFC was the team that showed more interest in me. I have to value the way that they want me.
“In football, we have to choose the place we feel comfortable and the people really want us there. I chose LAFC because it’s the team that showed they wanted me more. I am a part of this project, and for me, it’s enough. I am really passionate for this.”
Finally in LA after the long wait, the Portuguese midfielder is no longer joking when asked, “Why LAFC?”
“For me it’s the possibility to make history and being a part of the first group of people to wear this jersey. It’s an honor to me,” Horta said. “I have to be grateful to my agents and to the Club and the people that fought to bring me here. I have to show my quality and football on the pitch to say thank you to the people that brought me here.”
The maestro has arrived.