LOS ANGELES — Three hours before Los Angeles Football Club sent out the press release officially unveilingAndre Horta as the club’s third Designated Player, he scored a goal for his country in Switzerland.
Horta’s tally leveled the scoreline and Portugal came back from two goals down, away from home, to notch a 4-2 victory over the Swiss in UEFA Euro U-21 qualifying.
But with less than 10 goals for club and country, LAFC didn’t fill their last DP spot with Horta because of his scoring prowess alone.
“He’s not a player you can assess with statistics,” coach Bob Bradley said after training on Tuesday afternoon. “The best midfield players in the league, the best midfield players in the world, have to be appreciated for the little things that they do to make their team better.”
And how does Horta make LAFC – who have opened the season with two impressive away wins – better?
In Bradley’s words: “He gives you an ability to try to control games.”
Born several months after the inaugural Major League Soccer season in 1996, the 21-year-old Horta has been brought in to bolster the midfield in the club’s inaugural season. Bradley told reporters on numerous occasions during preseason that the club needed to strengthen the middle of the park and with Horta, they have a conductor.
“When you build a complete midfield, you want an ability to control games,” said Bradley, who visited Portugal to help LAFC executive VP of soccer operations and GM John Thorrington recruit Horta. “You want an ability that even when teams press to make passes and play out of pressure and give your team a rhythm.”
A product of Benfica’s lauded youth academy, Horta played several games for the Portuguese giants last season before being loaned out to S.C. Braga for the current campaign. The loan came right around the time LAFC identified the player as a potential target.
“He’s been on our radar for eight or nine months,” Thorrington said. “He’s a player who’s had some [UEFA] Champions League experience in previous years at Benfica and we thought maybe there was an opportunity to sign him.”
Of course, for all the progress MLS has made in attracting budding players from South America, getting a promising young player from Europe to consider a move to MLS wasn’t easy. Before a question about whether Horta even had MLS on his radar was finished, Thorrington leapt in with an emphatic: “No.”
“This has been an exclusively LAFC conversation,” he explained. “We educated him about the opportunity of what our club is and what our ambitions are for the future. That opened his eyes.”
From those initial meetings on, it wasn’t just LAFC monitoring Horta, but also Horta monitoring LAFC.
“It didn’t hurt that he’s watched our first few games avidly, from afar,” Thorrington said. “That helped him see and understand what Bob and I have described to him, what you are starting to see on the field.”
This year, Horta has featured for Braga during the club’s UEFA Europa League run as well as their push to get into the Primeira Liga’s top three.
“What’s happened is simple,” Bradley said. “He went on loan to Braga. He wasn’t playing all the time. These discussions started. Then, at some point, they had an injury and he started playing regularly, playing really well, they started winning and that obviously complicated the discussion.”
Thorrington watched Horta play as late as this past Friday (another of Portugal’s Euro U-21 qualifying victories, a 7-0 drubbing of Liechtenstein) to see the deal through with other suitors from big clubs circling.
“This is a guy who is in the pool of players in consideration for Portugal’s national team,” Thorrington added, alluding to the quality of a side crowned champions of Europe two summers ago. “A player of his age, with his pedigree and options, coming to MLS and LAFC, I think is rare if not unprecedented.”
Whether the expansion side will see him before the transfer window closes on May 1 or after it reopens on July 10 remains to be seen.
“It’s now outside of our control,” Thorrington said when asked for an estimation on when Horta will arrive in Los Angeles. “We certainly are respectful of the role he has to play for Braga and their run-in, and we know that worst-case scenario he’s here in the summer window. If something happens prior to then we’ll certainly welcome him with open arms.”