Allow me to allow new LAFC signing José Cifuentes to introduce himself.
Avid watchers of the U.S. youth ranks will have wished for a warning. That, of course, was the first goal in what eventually was a 2-1 defeat for the U.S. national team in the U20 World Cup quarterfinals. Cifuentes' strike was named Goal of the Tournament following the conclusion of the U20 World Cup and included in FIFA's Top 10 Goals of the Year for 2019.
Ecuador would go on to capture third place in Poland. Playing nearly every minute of the tournament, Cifuentes garnered interest from the likes of Manchester City and Celtic. But once again, LAFC has won the race to sign another promising, young talent from South America.
Here are three takeaways on new signing José Cifuentes:
Close Control And Accurate Passer
Part of LAFC's game model is the use of central midfielders that are always active. Players that fit well in this system need to be willing to always be around the ball and play in tight spaces to open up the game.
Cifuentes has that close control you like to see from a player and the spacial awareness to use it to find openings. His touch is soft and when opponents overcommit or press him, he can get by with close dribbles.
That opens up the game for his teammates. He eliminates opposing players with the ball at his feet and allows teammates to be on the move to receive a pass.
In offensive transition, Cifuentes drives the ball forward on the dribble and looks to slip teammates in with through balls. He's shown he can play through openings in retreating defenses. When the opponent is set, his passing over the top and diagonal switches of play with his right foot are very accurate.
Mentality Without The Ball
Cifuentes has the range of passing to play in a deeper role in midfield but his nature is to charge forward, making him a natural box-to-box type.
Without the ball, Cifuentes is mobile. If he has to chance to make a play, he's not afraid to vacate his position to win the ball. His footwork when battling for the ball allows him to oftentimes come up with a clean tackle while also starting possession for his team.
The terms "battler" or "gamer" are probably thrown around too much when describing midfield players. But Cifuentes does have that drive to cover ground and once engaged with an opponent, he doesn't give up on plays until they're finished.
What About That Shot
Of course, when you come to the attention of so many people with a long-range strike, like the one at the U20 World Cup, everyone wants to know more about that.
Cifuentes isn't afraid to shoot from distance. Whether or not it's always the right choice, he's at least accurate from range i.e. he forces goalkeepers to make saves. He does have power with his right foot but isn't afraid to take shots with his left. He can also hit a decent set-piece opportunity.
Shots from distance aren't necessarily something we see all too often from LAFC - the conversion rate of shots outside the box across football are low enough that you're almost always better off selecting another option, not to mention that can lead to dangerous counter opportunities - but if employed in the right instance and as accurately as Cifuentes has shown to be, it could be another useful weapon for Bob Bradley's team.