Chivas USA 2011 Postmortem: Michael Umana

CARSON, CA - JULY 16: Umana: Haters' gonna hate (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

If you read this blog with any regularity, you'll notice a trend concerning Chivas USA defender Michael Umana. He is the player who was probably targeted as much as any Chivas player in 2011 on this site. While I realize I may be overly harsh concerning Umana in that he isn't the sole source of the team's problems, I still have to regard him critically. Is he a professional? Without a doubt. He always seems to give full effort on the field, and although he didn't feature in ten of the first eleven matches of the 2011 season, he stuck with it and won over coach Robin Fraser. He ended up starting twenty-one straight matches, supplanting Andrew Boyens as first choice center back.

Besides playing 1,796 minutes in 2011, good for 10th most on the team, Umana scored a goal and an assist on the year. He also kept good discipline, collecting only three yellow cards and no red cards. Partnered with Heath Pearce in the center of defense, Chivas were able to enjoy a couple of solid defensive stretches through the middle of the campaign. In addition, Umana has been in favor as part of the Costa Rican National Team since the Gold Cup, when coach Jorge Luis Pinto took over as coach from Ricardo La Volpe. Having a player who is getting regular minutes with his national team demonstrates a certain quality of play and can lead to greater confidence for the player.

I think the reason I focused so much on Umana during the season, despite his lack of red cards and own goals, is that he lacked pace against the faster attackers, which was a problem considering Heath Pearce isn't exactly a speedster himself and meant the center of defense was very slow. He isn't short, at 5'10", but he's not that tall either, to go against the big strikers. And he was liable to get out of position, so when he was caught out, it was difficult to recover. As a result, Chivas were frequently guilty of breaking down at the back and giving up soft goals. Again, it is somewhat unfair to blame Umana for all of the team's defensive failures, but for some reason, he was the most obvious mistake-maker on a consistent basis, at least to me.

But while I was under the impression Umana was a poor defender all around, when he played at right back for two matches at the end of the season, against Toronto FC on September 24 and against the Philadelphia Union on October 2, it made a world of difference. Unlike Pearce's ultimately successful transition to center back from right back, I think Umana was considerably better as a full back. He made runs up the field and looked considerably more comfortable on the flank, and got his assist in the Toronto game, a big victory for the Goats. The problem, however, was that he was a center back for 19 matches.

It made sense at the time that Umana wasn't playing right back, considering it seemed like Zarek Valentin was poised to become a fixture at the position for Chivas for years to come. But with Valentin departing from Chivas after just one season, might it have made more sense for Umana to play more at right back? Consider this: if Umana and Valentin had split the season at right back, Valentin might not have "graduated" from the Generation Adidas program and Chivas might not have had to even worry about Valentin being made available in the Expansion Draft. To be fair, the standards surrounding the Generation Adidas program are shrouded in mystery, which is silly, and Chivas had every opportunity to protect Valentin, but they chose not to. But the point is that if the lineup was constituted differently game in and game out, it could have led to a very different outcome for the personnel this offseason.

At this point, I'm guessing Umana will be the starting center back for 2012, especially considering new arrival James Riley is definitely an upgrade at right back. I really would like the front office to get another center back in the offseason, and would prefer Umana serve as a depth player or in a backline rotation next season. If he is a first choice, though, I really hope he continues to develop his positioning and awareness in the center of defense during the offseason and proves haters like me wrong in 2012.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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