The back line issues will be discussed and debated long into this off-season, but one of the few consistent stars was first-year Lion Mohamed El-Munir. Picked up in late December of 2017, El-Mo was expected to battle for the left back spot with Donny Toia. I think El-Mo staked his claim pretty firmly in owning the left back spot — as well as the left wingback position — all season long.
Considering the dead horse that we keep beating in the form of constant rotation of the back line, I am not sure we were able to see a consistent performance from any of the defenders this year. El-Munir was one of the bright spots this season, however some would disagree.
El-Munir made 26 total appearances for the Lions throughout the season, with 23 starts and three substitute appearances in MLS play. He also started in all three of the Lions’ U.S. Open Cup matches this season.
In MLS play, he logged 2,089 minutes of total time on the pitch, fifth-highest on the season for City. He played most matches as a left back, but did find himself as a left wingback a few times, a position he seemed much more natural to, and even as a left attacking midfielder sparingly. He finished the season with two assists, six yellow cards, and one red. He was also shown a yellow in two of the three Open Cup matches he started in. He logged almost one key pass per match, had a 77.6% passing percentage, averaged 3.8 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per match to round out the year, on top of 1.7 clearances and 1.3 fouls, according to WhoScored.
There were four matches to choose from here, as El-Mo earned Man of the Match honors in the 2-1 win at Colorado Rapids, the 2-1 loss at home to Atlanta United, the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Fire, and the 2-0 loss to FC Dallas.
Choosing from a win and three losses isn’t as easy as one would expect, but this time it will certainly be the match at altitude. With time running out, and the pressure mounting, it was El-Munir who came flying out of nowhere to help keep the Lions one goal up in extra time. This few seconds showed some of the magic that he possesses, and certainly displayed in Denver. This wasn’t the only time he did this during the past season either.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land Staff gave El-Munir a composite grade of 5 for his performances this season. I will say I graded him much higher, but a few of the staff did not see his performance the same way I did. One thing the TML staff largely agreed upon was that El-Munir made for a much more reliable wingback versus a traditional left back.
I think his bad games, and to be honest there were a few, stand out to many much more prominently that his collection of good matches. Statistically speaking, he is one of the best players on the roster, according to some sites that track that kind of thing, but a number of issues left some not wanting to grade him very high. Specifically, staff members noted a tendency to ball watch, poor back-post play on crosses — especially in the first third of the season — and occasional mental lapses, like the one in Toronto that allowed Auro to get to the end line to make an open cross for Ryan Telfer’s game-winning goal on May 18. That loss, just moments from a road draw, was the second of what turned into a nine-game losing streak.
If the Lions can find some stability on the back line, retain the likes of Carlos Ascues, and find some solidity, El-Munir stands to be a rock on the left side. The left back position should certainly be his. The biggest question is where on the left will he play.
Head Coach James O’Connor certainly took a hard look at some alternative formations, including the 3-4-3, and El-Munir certainly seems a natural fit for the left. I think the sky is the limit for him in 2019, as long as there is a solid foundation from which he can play.