Mamadou Mbacke Fall – Player Report

Mamadou Fall is a 19-year-old Senegalese centre-back who plays in MLS for Los Angeles FC Fall took a slightly unorthodox route to professional soccer. As part of a program run by a former Senegalese national team player, he was able to train and study at Montverde Academy, a private school in Florida. It was there that he was discovered and signed by LAFC. After a brief stint with their USL affiliate the Las Vegas Lights, Fall made the jump to LAFC’s first team. There he quickly established himself as one of the most exciting prospects currently playing in MLS. Fall was called up by the Senegal U-17 team in 2019 but didn’t make an appearance for them. This really underscores just how rapid and unexpected Fall’s rise from obscurity to top MLS centre back was. In my view, he should be viewed as an extremely valuable player that big clubs in Europe should be watching very closely. In this article, I will show you why. 

The thing that immediately makes Fall stand out is that he scores a lot of goals for a centre-back. He has a tremendous vertical leap which makes him very hard to deal with on attacking set pieces. He’s not notably big for a centre-back, coming in at 6’2 and 163 pounds. But he leaps so high that his larger counterparts just can’t keep up with him. In addition to his athleticism, he also has very good movement in the box. This has allowed him to score a fair number of goals on the second phase of set pieces or when brought forward late in games to try and grab a goal. Despite his continuous goal threat, defenders have a very hard time keeping track of him. All six of the goals he has scored so far in his career can be seen below. 

Goal scoring is obviously not the first thing you look for in a centre-back but Fall’s prowess in that area does make him more valuable. Whether a team is fighting for the title or fighting against relegation an extra three or four goals a season from a centre-back will help their cause significantly. The stats show that Fall’s goal scoring is no fluke as he is in the 98th percentile for xG amongst MLS centre-backs. 

But Fall is so much more than just a battering ram who nods in goals from corners. He is extremely good with the ball at his feet. Fall plays a lot of progressive passes. Usually, these passes are long-range balls into wide areas of the pitch. So he’s not necessarily splitting defences open with his passing (few centre-backs are) but he is getting the ball into the final 3rd and helping LA build their attack there. LAFC rely quite heavily on their wide players for offensive production so it may be partially for tactical reasons that Fall goes to those passes so often. There’s a fairly representative sample below:

The stats and the video are in harmony here. Fall scores very highly compared to other MLS centre-backs in most passing stats, though his accuracy is not always the highest. 

Fall is also very comfortable carrying the ball forward. He does not constantly look to carry the ball out of defence, he’s definitely a pass-first player, but when he has to he is able to dribble the ball forwards. The combination of these skills makes it very hard for opposing forwards to pin him down when LAFC builds out of the back. You can see one example of what he has in his wheelhouse in the clip below which is from a match against the Colorado Rapids earlier this year (though it ends with a real centre-back’s finish). 

Of course, the main thing you want from any centre-back is the ability to defend. Fall is mostly a good defender but there are a few areas where he could improve. Fall is quite an aggressive and proactive defender. He attempts an above-average number of tackles and pressures. He is a decent but not great 1v1 defender. The main thing holding him back is that he tends to lunge into tackles and commit fouls. His goal-scoring ability and decent ball progression would naturally make him appealing to teams who dominate their domestic leagues and compete in Europe. But such teams are going to be most vulnerable during transitions and Fall’s tendency to lunge might get him into trouble with referees (though fouls do at least have the effect of stopping counterattacks in their tracks). 

Here are two compilations of Fall’s 1v1 defending. As we can see in the first, his proactive style often serves him well. He’s usually well positioned and he is not a bad tackler, though this is certainly an area he could improve on. He does particularly well when LAFC play with a back three, something they only do occasionally because there’s a bit more cover for him in the moments where he doesn’t quite get the timing of a defensive move right. 

But as we can see in the next compilation he is far from perfect. Here are some examples of him committing fouls, at least in part due to excessive aggression. In some cases fouling an opponent in transition can be an effective way of stopping a counter-attack but I still feel Fall could exercise a bit more control in these situations. 

If we take a look at the trusty fbref stats we can see that, although Fall makes a lot of tackles, his success rate is not that high. As good as he is, he’s not the finished article yet. 1v1 defending is probably the area in which he most needs to improve, particularly against opponents who are coming at him with speed. Now, defending in those situations is not exactly easy for any defender but if Fall tries to go to a level he’s not ready for then he might get found out by higher-level attackers. 

But there is good news defensively. Fall’s positioning is very strong. He’s very good at being in the right place at the right time to pick up a loose ball or pounce on a misplaced pass. Some examples are below. 

The aerial ability that makes Fall a threat in front of the other team’s goal is also an asset to him defensively. He wins a crushing 70% of his aerial duels, which can be put down to a combination of his excellent athleticism and defensive positioning. 

Conclusion & future projection

As I said in my match report earlier in the year, the sky’s the limit for Fall. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t more hype around him. Perhaps this is down to him playing in MLS but not being an American. Foreigners in MLS, for some reason, have a harder time commanding the huge transfer fees that have been paid for their domestic counterparts in recent years. Fall indeed has things to improve on that might see him get a bit exposed at a higher level. But I would say he’s just as exciting of a prospect, if not more so than Ricardo Pepi or Gabriel Slonina. The most expensive MLS centre-back was Mark McKenzie who joined Genk for a reported fee of 5.45 million euros. If Fall is to move in the next year or two then I think a move like that could be good for him. But in the long run, I feel he has top-five potential.

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