Midfielder Blair Gavin is today's entry in our season reviews. It was a pretty frustrating season for the talented youngster, as a hamstring injury suffered during the second match of the season kept him out of the lineup for over two months. Tabbed to be the midfield distributor at the start of the season, his full recovery was slow, and fortunately for the team, Nick LaBrocca emerged as the midfield attacking threat in his absence. Although LaBrocca slowed down in the second half of the season, Gavin had some difficulty gelling with the rest of the lineup on the field, and while he showed a few glimpses of the talent he showed in his rookie season in year two, all parties will likely hope he's able to step up his contributions in 2012.
Gavin appeared in 18 matches in 2011 (11 starts), which was actually two more than he had in his rookie campaign. I'm not sure why he played a relatively light load in 2010, but it might have had something to do with his status as a Generation Adidas player. Under the system, player salaries are exempt from the MLS clubs' payroll, and the program is meant to help talented young players earn a high salary by MLS standards while hopefully developing into the stars the league and clubs believe they can be. Gavin was part of the NCAA title-runners up Akron side in 2009, and chipping in three goals and an assist with Chivas in 2010 showed great promise.But the hamstring injury suffered against the Colorado Rapids on March 26, 2011 meant Gavin's season was seriously derailed. He had to go to Germany to rehab the injury. But he got spot duty for a few weeks starting in early June, and slowly made his way back into the fold. He only went a full 90 minutes four times this season, which means Robin Fraser didn't want to push him too hard, or that he was not an essential player on the field tactically. Above all, he didn't score any goals but he got three assists in 2011. Most notably, his assist on July 23 during Justin Braun's hat trick against the Houston Dynamo in a 3-0 victory showed his creativity and skill in the attacking third. He clearly seems to have a skill set that nobody else on the team has, and if he's integrated into the team in 2012, it could really pay dividends.
I think the fact that Gavin was played on the wing and as an impact sub throughout 2011 helped to dampen his impact. Ideally, he should probably start every match, be an established playmaker in the center of the field, and given the opportunity to pull the attacking strings for the squad. LaBrocca is a much more direct player, and could still be a provider for teammates, but he seems most adept at scoring, while Gavin could be more of a facilitator.
The issue is that I'm not sure what formation Robin Fraser will use in 2012. He used a 4-4-2 alignment most of the season, but experimented with a 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1, and ended the season favoring a 4-3-3. Suppose he goes with a 4-3-3 in 2012. What will he do in the midfield? I'm assuming LaBrocca will be the first choice in the middle. Will the club forgo a defensive midfielder? If that's the case, the defense will need to be very stout without cover in the center of the field. And where would that leave Gavin? He spent time in 2011 on the right wing, but he doesn't seem best suited as a winger, and with the team seemingly stocking up on wingers, Ryan Smith and Laurent Courtois or Jorge Flores will probably anchor the sidelines. As a result, a 4-3-3 may mean that central midfielders, like Gavin, could have trouble getting minutes.
That said, the new season is still months away and the front office has been busy dropping players and getting new players. There is a lot of time for personnel to shuffle around, and for Fraser to find a style he likes in his second season with Chivas. Gavin is a talented player, and given an opportunity, looks poised to break out. Will his style and skills suit the team's system? We'll have to wait and see on that count.
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