Inside the front office at LAFC, the leaders of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion club call it their decision-making “filter.”
From the moment the blank canvas first started to fill out with names of prospective players, LAFC general manager John Thorrington and the club’s leaders tried to distill the criteria they sought in their roster build down to a formula, of sorts.
They looked for specific on- and off-field qualities at each position. They worked out exactly how much they were willing to spend at each spot. They whittled the profiles down as narrowly as possible. Then they started to search and build.
Ahead of the club’s first crosstown clash with the LA Galaxy on Saturday (3 pm ET | FOX; MLS LIVE on DAZN and TVAS2 in Canada), LAFC put the final big piece of its expansion roster in place this week.
Portuguese midfielder Andre Horta was signed as the team’s third Designated Player on a transfer from Benfica for a reported $7 million fee. The transfer was not an easy one to get over the finish line; there were several hoops to jump through to get it finalized. Even now, the player’s loan to SC Braga complicates the deal, with LAFC unsure when their newest signing will actually join the club.
But LAFC leaders knew Horta fit every quality they sought in that final DP spot, and so they stayed patient to complete the roster in the way that decision-making filter determined was best.
It was the right player to finish off a roster build that has exceeded expectations, albeit just two games into the expansion campaign. There is still room to add more if needed – LAFC will have two senior rosters spots remaining once Horta is officially added, as well as five reserve and supplemental spots – but the core is now in place.
“For us, we definitely trust in our process and that involves player identification and recruitment and negotiation and all the necessary steps,” Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. “You learn quickly that these negotiations are never linear. You don’t get one step closer with each conversation and there are things outside your control that could prove to be obstacles. That was certainly the case with [Horta] and with all our DPs and players across the roster. We were able to get around every obstacle that was put in the way.”
Horta also fit a major theme in LAFC’s expansion roster: diversity.
LAFC wanted players with different experiences and from different cultures, in early stages of their career and in the latter portions of their playing days. They signed two young DPs, one from South America (Diego Rossi) and another from Europe (Horta), both of whom had plenty of suitors. They inked a superstar in Carlos Vela that sent a message about ambition. In the foreign market, they added prospects like Eduard Atuesta and veterans like Omar Gaber.
They also scouted diligently in the domestic market to find players. LAFC identified starters in the expansion draft (Tyler Miller, Latif Blessing, Marcos Ureña), free agency (Steven Beitashour), trades (Laurent Ciman, Benny Feilhaber), SuperDraft (Joao Moutinho) and lower divisions (Mark-Anthony Kaye, Dejan Jakovic).
Thorrington said the hope was that those experiences would mesh well into their vision for a successful roster in MLS.
“To be able to secure [Vela] as our first signature player over the summer, it was a guy Bob [Bradley] and I both agreed would be a great start as a team builder,” Thorrington said. “As each piece of the puzzle goes into place, it helps inform secondary and tertiary pieces we build around. If you look around at how we built the roster, it was a very multifaceted approach consistent with what type of things we want in players. … You don’t get every single one right, but the hope is you get more right than wrong.”
So far, there’s been a bit more that’s gone right.
LAFC opened the season with two wins, both on the road, against Western Conference contenders. They’ll look to continue that perfect record against an LA Galaxy team that recently added superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Thorrington praised Bradley’s ability to communicate how he wants the team to play and what he wants the identity to be about. The team has taken on that message quickly and the results have followed. For an expansion team that is bringing 23 new players together for the first time, it’s been surprisingly efficient, though there will inevitably be rough patches.
Even with the early success, LAFC understand they have a difficult task when it comes to competing with the LA Galaxy, who have won five titles in the first 22 seasons of MLS. Though the Galaxy are coming off of their worst season in history, the club can still attract players like Ibrahimovic, who can easily shift the narrative and steal the headlines.
With a downtown stadium set to open soon, however, and with Bradley at the helm, the hope at LAFC is that this season begins a new era of top-level soccer in LA.
“We have been very diligent and focused on what we are about and that doesn’t change [after Zlatan],” Thorrington said. “We are respectful that the Galaxy have been, results-wise, the most successful club over the first 20 years of MLS and we feel we are laying the foundation not just in the short-term, but the medium- and long-term, to be the most successful club of the next 20 years.
“What you see is there is an appetite for what we’re doing. We’ve been amazed from the outset of joining [MLS] that we sold the stadium out without even having a coach or a player yet. … It’s incredible to see the traction we’ve had in the market. We have such a passionate fan base, incredible traveling support, our fans were at academy games this weekend at StubHub Center. They know they are every bit as involved as the ownership, the players, the staff. They are helping create the story with us.”
Where that story goes remains to be seen. But LAFC are confident its decision-making filters and formulas will yield a club that can compete both in its market and outside of it.