Chivas USA 2012 Player Postmortem: Ben Zemanski

Zemanski: Most improved player? - Victor Decolongon

The mostly midfielder had another quiet yet strong season in 2012.

Let me begin by being upfront about my feelings about Ben Zemanski. I think he has improved substantially every season he has been in MLS. He can play throughout the midfield and has even shown good skills in spot duty in defense. Unlike some of the other players who were asked to play in different positions by Robin Fraser, Zemanski actually seems like he can fill in multiple positions without a major drop in production.

To me, one of the most striking moments of the season came in a game when Zemanski and Blair Gavin, teammates at Chivas and in college at Akron, played side by side in midfield against the Portland Timbers in April. Gavin, who was the highly touted prospect out of college, one expected to be a star, could not break out of the habit of passing the ball short and as fast as possible. Of course, that is a good strategy from time to time, but Chivas were chasing the game, and Gavin looked like he was rooted to the center line. Meanwhile, when Zemanski got the ball, he saw he was given space by the Timbers, and proceeded to bring the ball up the field and progress the attack multiple times. He was rewarded for his efforts with the final pass before Ryan Smith's assist for the comeback gamewinner in that match. The point? Gavin looked like he had moved backwards in his progress (a point that I believe still stands), while Zemanski showed how much he had improved, so that he outshined his teammate thoroughly.

In fact, I think Zemanski is a star in the making, provided his team becomes successful around him. Although I think his ceiling is as a good MLS pro, I could definitely see him being the breakout player of the year at some point, in the same vein as Graham Zusi and Steven Beitashour the last couple of years. What I mean is that every season there is a player or two who previously have no reputation as being a great player, who suddenly elevates his game. As with the cases of Zusi and Beitashour, a player needs to have his team improve in order to show off his full complement of skills. It's my opinion that Zemanski can be that player for Chivas, as long as they substantially improve.

These were Zemanski's statistics for 2012:

Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 22 18 1,649 0 2 15 6 3 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 1 157 0 0 1 1 0 0
Total 25 19 1,806 0 2 16 7 3 0

Zemanski's assists were significant. He is part of the free kick club, that group that was not successful on the whole for the Goats in 2012, but alongside Nick LaBrocca, Miller Bolanos, and Laurent Courtois, Zemanski set up a goal on a free kick in 2012. What's interesting is that Zemanski very seldom took set pieces for Chivas, and when he did set up Danny Califf's winner against the Timbers in July (Chivas' last win of 2012), he was kicking the ball from well out of a scoring position. I wouldn't say that Zemanski should be taking the free kicks in the future, since I don't think he can consistently be a set piece specialist, but it is but another indication that he has a full complement of skills on the field.

Overall, Zemanski's best position is probably defensive or box-to-box midfielder. As the team is currently constructed, Shalrie Joseph, Nick LaBrocca, and Oswaldo Minda are ahead of Zemanski in the regular pecking order. We already evaluated the season of Joseph, and it wasn't pretty, so I'd love for him to go elsewhere or take more of a reserve role. I think Minda was one of Chivas' very best players last season, so he should be starting. But when it comes to Zemanski or LaBrocca, I think they are actually much closer in ability than most would think. Considering the lack of offensive production from LaBrocca over the past year and a half, would it be crazy to think that Zemanski could surpass another teammate in 2013?

Grades:

Scoring Threat: C
Zemanski took shots when he could--he often wasn't slotted into an offensive position. His versatility often precluded him from being able to play up front.

Playmaker (Passing/Creativity): B
Because of Zemanski's versatility it's difficult to get an accurate read on some of his metrics. For example, a right back should have more tackles, interceptions and a higher passer rating than a a center attacking midfielder.

The question remains, does Zemanski have a position where he would excel or is he simply a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none?

Defense: B+
Zemanski's tenaciousness on defense is what really sets him apart from the rest of the team's midfielders, Oswaldo Minda excepted of course. Speaking of which, his pairing with Minda as the second d-mid worked very well.

- Matthew Hoffman

GM's Evaluation:

In my mind, Zemanski is the one player behind Dan Kennedy who showed why he should stay on this team. Probably one of the most severely underrated players in the league, Zemanski puts in the work, and has the most heart of any player I've seen on this team. Moreover, he's improved immensely since he was drafted in the 3rd round of the SuperDraft in 2010. He even rolled with the punches every time he was deployed in a new position on the field (and let's be honest, he was not too shabby in defense). I think I may have become Zemanski's biggest cheerleader, but seriously, this guy gets no attention for the work he does. He's also one of the lowest paychecks on this roster ($57,690 in base salary, $60,190 guaranteed comp in 2012) - best deal ever? Probably, though it depends on where he goes from here.

- Rachna Kapur

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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