Forrest Lasso’s Absence: How Will the Rowdies Adapt?

Forrest Lasso has started nine of the twelve league games in 2024 & has been nearly ever-present on the backline in the USL Championship. He will, however, miss the rest of the season and likely some of 2025, too. How the team adjusts to his absence will be a key storyline for the remainder of the year. 

In the dying moments of a 5-0 win versus FC Tulsa, a substitution occurred that didn’t turn any heads at the time. In fact, two players were taken off, Lasso and forward Manuel Arteaga. This made it seem even less dramatic. Fans see this all the time: the team is cruising, so let’s give some guys with a lot of minutes just that little bit of rest. Not only is this game done and dusted, but another one looms on the horizon four days away. A US Open Cup Round of 16 match against FC Dallas, one could argue, was more important anyway. 

Unfortunately, going into that fixture the following Wednesday, Lasso was not in the starting XI. He was also not on the bench. Something was amiss. Two days later, the true nature of things came to light. Forrest Lasso had torn his ACL. It’s the news every soccer player dreads. It usually means a minimum of ten months out, if not longer.  

If you follow the team, you likely already knew the above. But, what needs more coverage is what this means for the team. Through the months of March and April, the Rowdies gave up seven goals in seven games. True, those are not stellar figures. They had also not lost a match in that stretch. That is a standout statistic. The first loss of the season came on Saturday May 4th away to Memphis 901 FC. (An article including the recap is available on our website.)

Without going over the whole game again, it was something of an aberration for their record. The defining moment came in the 11th minute when Lasso, as the last man, was running back alongside his man. There’s no need to argue the merits of this call again a month later. But, similarly, no one could argue that sending Lasso off so early in the game did not greatly impact proceedings. 

The attacker, Marlon Santos, would harry the Rowdies all night, going on to net a double in the 4-1 loss for Tampa Bay. It can’t all be put down to Lasso being sent off, of course. But, his leadership at the back is a large part of his value, and that was sorely lacking on multiple occasions throughout the rest of the 90 minutes. The replacement, Freddy Kleemann, was coming back from injury as well. It was not his best game in Green and Gold certainly. 

Through suspension, Lasso was then missing for the next league game versus Birmingham Legion. Again, the 1-0 loss can’t be chalked up to just this. Looking back, it was a game that lacked a certain energy. Only three days before, the team had gone up 4-0 against Legion. Then, four goals conceded in fifteen minutes forced extra time to determine who would move on in the Open Cup. The boys had settled down and got back to their normal selves for that extra period. Two goals from Arteaga finally sealed the deal. 

Lasso knows how to rally a team. We can avoid comparisons to another famous Lasso for the time being. Suffice it to say that if fans can hear him shouting over their own chants and drums, the players he’s directing can, too. He has worn the captain’s armband for this club in the past. He very well may again. In the meantime, though, there are more games to play this season. Soccer never stops. How will the team move forward?

Without Lasso available, manager Robbie Neilson has kept Aaron Guillen and Jordan Doherty on the field. These two have sat to the left and right, respectively, of his giant figure in the middle. With Doherty sliding into that spot, Eddie Munjoma has filled in as the right sided defender. Not one for sitting so deep, Munjoma has mostly played at right back during his career. He came to the Rowdies to step in as the right wingback while other options were unavailable. 

Munjoma has also performed in this newer spot admirably. Pacifique Niyongabire dropped from a more attacking role to the right wingback slot that he had filled in the first game of the season against San Antonio. Nick Moon is also nearing full fitness. He was the expected starter on that side when he was announced as a new signing – at least by the fans. So with all these options, what have the team lost following this ACL tear?

For starters, they have lost one of the best last-ditch defenders in the league. He leads the team in clearances per 90 minutes as well as blocks per 90 minutes. This is unsurprising for anyone who watches Lasso. He can often be seen putting his body on the line to prevent a good chance from challenging Jordan Farr in net. Another key piece to his game, though, is Lasso’s height. At 6’5”, he frequently towers over opponents both defensively and when attacking. That will be harder to replace, as Guillen, Doherty, and Munjoma are all listed as six feet or under. 

This final piece may come from Freddy Kleemann. Compared to other center backs in the league, Lasso is in the 96th percentile for aerial duels won. Kleemann is listed at 6’4”, only one inch shorter. He could potentially step in to be the man who clears away all the attempted quick balls over the Rowdies’ high back line, an incredibly important part of playing this style. If that translates into similar figures on the attacking side, where Lasso has two goals, gravy! 

Whether or not Robbie Neilson particularly values some height on the backline remains to be seen. So far, the defensive unit in Lasso’s absence has picked itself due to other injuries. But, as noted, with their high back line, there is always a risk of having a long ball punted over the heads of the defenders for a speedy opponent to chase down. There could be extra assurance in having a tall tree or two blocking that option. As for Forrest, he will have to shout from the sideline now to lift his teammates. No doubt they’ll still be able to hear him.