LOS ANGELES — Earlier this spring, when LAFC announced the signing of a 21-year-old Portuguese midfielder to occupy the expansion club’s third Designated Player spot, the club felt their European acquisition might help them with a weighty task every team struggles with: the ability to control games.
Since debuting in July, the midfielder in question — Andre Horta — has played less than 200 minutes total.
“I thought Andre gave us a good 60 minutes against Toronto,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “There were positive signs. He, in certain moments, is able to hit good diagonal balls that help us change the game. I think he’s shown an ability to get forward and be a bit of a threat. He had a few good plays defensively when the ball turned over and his reactions were good and now we’re hoping to continue to build on that.”
Since that performance against Toronto, Horta was called in for national team duty with the Portugal’s U-21 squad — where he belted in a game-winner from distance during a Euro U-21 qualifying fixture in Wales.
“That was important for him, for confidence,” Bradley said of Horta’s performance for his country. “When he comes back after travel and everything, he didn’t play against New England but we continue to build on the positives we saw for 60 minutes against Toronto.”
With just six games left in the regular season, Horta’s chances to make an impression on his first season in MLS are shrinking quickly, even if he’s only been in Los Angeles a few months.
“For any player who comes part of the way through the year, [we hope] he sees the way we play and is able to, in a more consistent way in the midfield, connect the right passes, be part of a midfield three that both in attack and defense gives us a chance to control the game in the midfield.”
Success for Horta for LAFC was never intended to be measured in an amount of goals scored or assists — the way it might be for the club’s other DP’s Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi — but rather, his contribution to the nascent club’s ability to control games.
Whether Horta can add it to his new club remains to be seen but the LAFC boss did give a good idea of what it would look like, even if he admits the circumstances of the midfielder’s arrival, after finishing his loan stint at Braga at the end of the last Portuguese league season, make it a challenge.
“It’s not just the occasional longball or the occasional long shot, it’s a more consistent effort of doing the simple things, doing the right things, being easier to play with, being somebody who is constantly connected with what the game is asking and connected with the team," Bradley said. "That’s not easy for somebody that comes halfway through the year but that part is what we try to hold him and all the other midfielders to all the time.”