Despite not playing a part in this year’s Expansion Draft, LAFC wasn’t content with remaining totally quiet.
On Tuesday, the Club announced the acquisition of Orlando City SC left back Mohamed El-Munir. Headed the opposite direction is former SuperDraft No. 1 overall pick João Moutinho.
“Mohamed is a player that we are very excited to acquire for a variety of reasons. He’s quick. He’s shows great ability on the ball. We feel like his qualities will translate very well to how we play,” LAFC EVP and GM John Thorrington said of the trade. “These decisions are never easy to make when you have to give up an asset to acquire one. But we feel that with the addition of Mohamed, it puts us in a great spot in that position.”
Positionally, it’s a like-for-like switch. Both El-Munir and Moutinho saw a majority of their action last season at left back but can also slot in on the left side of midfield or higher up the pitch as needed. Like Moutinho, El-Munir has just one MLS season under his belt. The Libyan international featured in 26 matches for Orlando City and registered two assists in 2018.
As the first draft pick in Club history, Moutinho had an up and down season for the Black & Gold - scoring the winner in the 97th minute in San Jose stands out as the high point of his career in Black & Gold. Moutinho was a starter in LAFC’s first four matches in 2018, but after serving a red-card suspension for picking up two yellow cards in the dying minutes of a match against Atlanta, Moutinho started just six more times in the team’s final 30 matches, including just 11 minutes played in LAFC’s final 12 matches of 2018.
At 20 years old, Moutinho is six years younger than the 26-year-old El-Munir. And some might wonder the rationale behind moving last year’s top pick for a defender freshly removed from playing a part in the worst defensive season by a team in MLS history – Orlando City conceded an MLS record 74 goals last season.
El-Munir’s skillset profile, however, eclipses much of the narrative surrounding Orlando City’s tumultuous 2018 season and adds a new facet to LAFC’s backline.
“One of the things that we really like about Mohamed is that when he comes forward, he has great ability to go by people. He’s not only somebody that can make passes but he’s a left-sided player who on the dribble creates attacking situations, creates advantages,” Bob Bradley said of El-Munir’s quality on the pitch. “So that is a really good feature to have as we try to build our attack.”
That dribbling ability, combined with El-Munir’s pace, made him one of the most dynamic defenders in MLS last season. He led MLS in successful dribbles per 90 minutes by a fairly wide margin last season. And it wasn’t simply the sheer number of successful dribbles in 2018 but El-Munir’s high success-rate in attempts that makes the left back so valuable.
“With the way we play, we ask a lot of players, certainly in that position and in most positions, with his play in Orlando, and previously he’s played in some big games in his career, we felt that he showed the requisite characteristics that we feel will be valued here,” Thorrington said of El-Munir. “He’s quick. He’s fast. He has great ability on the ball. [In 1v1 situations], he actually shows very well running by players. We think both helping us attack and defend, what we ask of players in that position, he’ll be a valuable asset.”
The unique ability to bypass players is a twofold advantage to teams. Eliminating defenders by going past them on the ball obviously results in deeper progressions into the final third. But it also creates opportunities for LAFC’s players off the ball. As opponents adjust, the wide attackers will find more avenues to take up dangerous positions without the ball, thus creating more movements into the opponent’s penalty area – think Diego Rossi or Carlos Vela running onto balls played into the box, as opposed to having to carry the ball past defenders to create shots.
That being said, trading a young player tied to LAFC’s history is never easy.
“As our first-ever SuperDraft selection, João will always be part of LAFC’s history,” Thorrington said of Moutinho. “We are appreciative of his service to the Club in our inaugural campaign, and we wish him all the best as he begins the next chapter of his young career.”
To get quality, most times you have to give up quality. Moutinho forever remains a part of LAFC’s history, but Thorrington and Bradley have done their due diligence in assessing the value they are receiving in return in El-Munir. The Libyan defender’s arrival, coupled with the possible re-signing of Jordan Harvey, gives Bradley depth and nuance in his options at left back.
El-Munir furthers LAFC’s commitment to a diverse and entertaining roster. And in Year Two, it’s a statement of the Club’s intent to perfect and progress the ideas it displayed in its historic inaugural season.