Tristan Blackmon logged his fair share of frequent flyer miles in his first professional season.
The third-overall pick by LAFC in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the former University of the Pacific defender began 2018 in Los Angeles. But after making appearances in LAFC's first four matches to start its inaugural season, Blackmon's minutes were becoming increasingly rare. To keep the rookie in shape and progressing on the pitch, LAFC loaned its young defender to Phoenix Rising of the USL in mid-August.
With Phoenix, Blackmon started all eight matches he appeared in and was part of the Rising's run to the USL Cup final at the beginning of November. Swapping training matchups with Carlos Vela in LA for battles with former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, the captain and part owner of Phoenix Rising, Blackmon emphasized how much he learned in his stints with both teams.
"Anytime you’re playing with a great player on your team, you take things that they do every day and try to emulate them to some extent. [Drogba] is a very wise guy and tries to keep you humble but also give you that extra push to be the player you can be. I think I can say the same for Carlos. Every day he pushes you to be good in training," Blackmon said about training with the likes of Vela and Drogba. "Obviously, as a defender you have to go up against both of them every once in a while in training and sometimes you get the better of them. But I think you can take a lot of things from both of them."
During Phoenix's playoff run, Blackmon started at center back in three of the four playoff matches, including going the full 90 minutes in the USL Cup final. Despite losing 1-0 to Louisville City in the final, Blackmon has fond memories of his time with Phoenix this season.
"It was awesome to be in it, of course. I would say, anybody who’s playing with Drogba on the field in any type of game, let alone a final, it’s got to be top notch. It was a great experience," Blackmon said of the USL Cup final. "Obviously, the result didn’t go the way we planned or wanted. But it was awesome to be a part of it and I wouldn’t take it back for the world."
After a rookie season in which he made his MLS debut, went on loan, came back to LA, went on loan again, and played in a cup final, Blackmon feels he's a different player heading into 2019. No longer a rookie after all his 2018 experiences, the defender knows the foundation is there to improve further next season with LAFC.
"It’s a testament to what you can do in games. I think it’s really cool that I helped take this team and be a part of the push to the final. That’s a confidence booster for sure. Obviously, there’s a lot of things to work on because I’m a young player and you can always get better at certain things.
"I look forward to taking all the little things you need to work and keep working every day. Make sure that next year is a better year than last year."