But LAFC made the type of summertime signing Tuesday that underscored their trophy-hunting credentials in 2022, adding midfielder Sebastian Mendez in a trade with Orlando City SC. And it cost just $300,000 in guaranteed General Allocation Money (GAM), with another $450k in conditional GAM tied to the Ecuadorian international re-upping with the Black & Gold.
In some corners across the league, it prompted a simple question: How?
Head coach Steve Cherundolo offered some context in his Thursday media availability, praising the work front-office duo John Thorrington and Will Kuntz do in trying to bolster the Supporters’ Shield leaders.
“John and Will and our scouting department, as well as our coaching staff, we do our homework and we are always trying to improve the group on the field but also off the field,” Cherundolo said.
“We cannot force teams into giving us players and we do not have other tools that other clubs do not have. We are working very hard and we are constantly communicating and watching and trying to improve the group. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and we can take advantage of those.”
Mendez arrives with three-plus years of MLS experience and more than 4,500 regular-season minutes with the Lions, an important part of their rise to two-straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearances in the Eastern Conference. He’s also been capped 30 times by Ecuador since making his debut in 2018, and like two now-teammates with LAFC – midfielder Jose Cifuentes and left back Diego Palacios – is chasing a Qatar 2022 World Cup spot with La Tri later this fall.
The 25-year-old could likely start for a good chunk of MLS teams, though at LAFC he’s another piece in their remarkably deep roster. He joins the first-choice midfield trio of Cifuentes, 2022 MLS All-Star Ilie Sanchez and US international Kellyn Acosta, while Latif Blessing offers depth after Francisco Ginella was recently loaned to Nacional in his native Uruguay.
For one, Acosta called Mendez a “key addition” that resembles his former FC Dallas teammate who’s now in the German Bundesliga with FC Augsburg and spent 2016-19 in MLS.
“He adds another dimension, a guy that’s a ball-winner, a destroyer,” Acosta said of Mendez. “He reminds me a lot of another Ecuadorian that I played with, Carlos Gruezo. I think they’re similar in a sense, but I think he’s going to give us that added bite in the midfield that we need. He’s a guy that can run all over the field, big engine and I’m excited for him to be part of the group.”
As for Cherundolo’s take on Mendez’s skill set, he described their newest addition as a versatile midfielder who can play multiple spots.
“He is physically very gifted and covers a lot of ground and is quite aggressive,” Cherundolo said. “His ball-winning abilities is something that we’re also looking for in players, and he brings that. On top of that, he’s technically proficient and has an eye for certain windows. So he fits very nicely into an 8 position for us, and in a pinch, he can play in a 6 position.”
Though he’s been with LAFC for only a few days, Cherundolo gave the impression that Mendez could play as soon as their Week 22 visit to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday evening (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Cherundolo also said that both Bale and Chillieni “are ready to go”, building off their debuts last weekend in a 2-1 win at Nashville SC.
“The integration process has been finished extremely quickly and was excellent,” Cherundolo said. “Any time a player joins our group and is smiling all day, then I think we’ve done something right for the player as well. We’re excited to have him and to get him some action hopefully this weekend.”