Even before the loss of Lee Nguyen in November's 2020 Expansion Draft, bolstering the midfield was a priority for LAFC.
Last season, the midfield trio of Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Eduard Atuesta played in a combined 95 of a possible 102 matches in the MLS regular season. Add a run to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup and Western Conference finals in the playoffs, that's a lot of miles on those legs. And it's not going to get any lighter in 2020 with LAFC's inclusion in the Concacaf Champions League.
On Monday, LAFC announced the signing of Uruguayan U23 and Montevideo Wanderers midfielder Francisco Ginella.
Ginella isn't what you've come to expect from a depth signing in this league. The 20-year-old is already in his third professional season and was a standout for Uruguay at the U20 World Cup. Reading what LAFC GM John Thorrington has to say about his newest signing, you get the feeling Ginella is meant to push the group for minutes and not simply fill out the ranks.
“At just 20 years old, Francisco brings a meaningful amount of experience at the professional and youth international levels,” Thorrington said. “It is exciting for our club to sign a player of his quality and potential, and we are confident Francisco will prove to be a great fit for LAFC as we look ahead to our third season.”
Here are three takeaways from LAFC's latest signing:
There's little room for specialists in LAFC's midfield. The idea of a player that is only good on one side of the ball doesn't mesh with Bob Bradley's approach.
Ginella is a volante mixto through and through. He played the majority of his time at the base of a midfield three with Montevideo but found moments to get forward from that position. And he covers a lot of ground from touchline to touchline.
Where he might vary from LAFC's current group of midfielders is his zeal for winning the ball from the opposition. Ginella isn't afraid to defend in space. He has a way of using his athleticism to pressure the ball and routinely dislodge it from its carrier in defensive transition.
On the ball, Ginella's body positioning is excellent. He receives facing upfield and creates space before receiving passes. Where he's still a bit raw is his use of the ball. While he's smooth enough as a dribbler and a decent passer, Ginella is prone to a wayward pass or two going forward. In young players, you're looking for tendencies in the way they approach the game though. So while Ginella might misplace a pass, he's usually doing it while trying to drive the ball forward.
With more experience and under the tutelage of the LAFC staff, he should sharpen his recognition of moments and passing windows.
Youth Is Served
Think on this for a second. Mark-Anthony Kaye is the elder statesman of the LAFC's midfield at just 25.
Francisco Ginella will turn 21 a little over a month before the start of the MLS regular season. Eduard Atuesta is just 22. Latif Blessing will be 23 before the new year. Add 19-year-old Brian Rodriguez and 20-year-old Diego Palacios to that mix. And I still haven't mentioned Diego Rossi, who will turn just 23 at the start of the season.
That's six prospective starters 23 years or younger. Last season, LAFC was among the top in MLS in giving minutes to young players. The signing of Ginella shows last year wasn't a one-off.
For Club And Country
Ginella now joins compatriots Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez in Black & Gold.
As already mentioned above, Ginella featured on Uruguay's U20 World Cup squad with Rodriguez. In a couple of weeks, he'll be teaming up with Diego Rossi and the Uruguay U23s as they attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
This isn't a coincidence. LAFC isn't shy about courting players with a pedigree and a ton of upside, especially in South America. And so far, those players have been receptive to LAFC's offer to join. Ginella joins the likes of Rossi, Rodriguez, and Diego Palacios as well-regarded, young talents known on the world's stage that are choosing to raise their profile even further in Los Angeles.
And it's not just MLS that is taking notice.