LAFC's Atuesta settling into LA, making case as MLS's best midfielder

Eduard Atuesta - LAFC - action

LOS ANGELES —  There is no battle over the music in the LAFC dressing room. No fussing over who gets the auxiliary cord or the Bluetooth setup. No rotation.

And that’s for good reason.

“Maybe it is superstition,” said Eduard Atuesta. “But since I have been in charge of the music we have not lost, so it is a good thing.”

Of course, Atuesta’s taste has something to do with it. Having come to LAFC from Medellín, Colombia — a city that produced international phenomenon Juanes, among others — the 22-year-old has an ear for what’s new and what’s next.

“Nowadays reggaeton is popular and there are many artist from there like Maluma and J Balvin, which is very popular here in the US,” he told in a Spanish interview this week. “I try to play some songs in English and I tell them to give me suggestions so that everyone is happy.”

It’s not a stretch to draw a connection from Atuesta’s function as LAFC team DJ to his play on the pitch. In his second season in MLS, the Colombian has been the league leaders' metronome.

The deepest lying of LAFC’s midfield trident, his 10 assists so far this season — six of them contributions to Carlos Vela’s tallies — place him among the company of MLS set-up men Nico Lodeiro, Alejandro Pozuelo, and Sebastian Blanco. His best attributes bely the numbers — positioning, tackling, vision, tracking back — and might be part of the reason his performances fly under the radar alongside fellow midfield starters Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye.

But his teammates aren’t shy about heaping on praise.

“I would say he’s the best midfielder in the league,” Kaye, an MLS All-Star selection himself this year, said of Atuesta. “What he does, a lot of players can’t do and he’s only 22. To see that it’s very exciting and I always have to keep raising my game.”

When MLS veteran Benny Feilhaber left LAFC in the offseason, there were questions about how his contributions would be replaced. That Atuesta has eclipsed the former USMNT man’s role for the Black & Gold is an understatement, and according to his coach, he’s only getting better.

“I think Eduard has just grown in all ways,” said Bob Bradley. “He’s more comfortable with playing in the tight spaces in the center of the field, the way he receives balls, his use of touches, his use of the right pass, those are things that obviously get coached every day but need time to develop and you can tell that he gets more and more confident all the time.”

Bradley believes Atuesta grew in all phases of the game going into 2019, but life in Los Angeles has also grown on the player.

“I have a family, they are friends that are Mexican-American family, my girlfriend and I spend the majority of our time with them outside of football,” the midfielder explained. “They have become my family here, which is why I believe the Mexican culture has fulfilled what we haven’t found, like the same things we did in Colombia and they make us feel welcomed. This family that I care about a lot, make us feel good with their customs.”

After spending some time training in Colombia over the offseason, Atuesta came back to find his midfield partner Kaye had relocated from the part of Pasadena where they’d both called home.

In Los Angeles, professional athletes tend to live near the beach or the Hollywood hills but for those looking for the action, they gravitate closer to the city center. Downtown L.A., for generations, had a reputation as a place where people worked, rather than played or lived. That began to change at the turn of the century, when the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings relocated there from Inglewood.

With Banc of California Stadium and LAFC’s performance center close by, Kaye’s move led to a wave of LAFC players moving downtown, Atuesta among them. 

“The downtown crew is cooler,” said Kaye, explaining that he and Atuesta swap music and language teaching lessons off the field the way they do passes and tips on it. “It’s more lively in that area, and we just know that we have each other, we’re so close.”

Another reason Kaye enjoys being around Atuesta is because of his general calm demeanor — something his coach also pointed to as the biggest area of improvement he’s seen so far this season on the pitch.

“Last year, at times, when things were tight around them, he got a little bit tense, he wasn’t just so calm and when you see the best players in the center of the field even in very tight spaces, you see a calmness to what they’re trying to do.”

No one in LAFC’s dressing room seems to doubt Atuesta’s potential to become a world-class midfielder and he attributes this increased sense of tranquility to his religious faith.

“God is a fundamental part of my life because he has given me everything I have today and everything I am today. Being close to [God] has made me feel safe and calm,” he explained.

Atuesta has found a church downtown he likes with services in Spanish. It’s just one of many reasons the city has felt more and more like home, so much so that it’s starting to even influence his music selections.

“We listen to Mexican music and music from here,” Atuesta said of how his group of local friends have influenced his taste. “They were raised in L.A. so we listen to Tupac, Ice Cube, [and watch] movies. I begin to get an understanding of the west coast culture and believe that is what I have come to like the most about L.A.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the more Atuesta feels settled in the city, the more chemistry he develops with his teammates, the more his boss sees how instrumental he, alongside his fellow midfielders, are in LAFC’s grander scheme.

“His overall package as a midfielder is fantastic,” said Bradley. “We have a really good all round midfield and when we’re at our best, our midfield sets the tone for our team.”