Yesterday, I discussed the idea that defensive midfielder is a crucial position, not only generally in the sport, but in MLS in particular. Today, I thought we would narrow the focus and figure out Chivas USA's probable options in that role for the 2012 season.
Again, the formation(s) coach Robin Fraser uses will make a significant impact on who fills in this slot, but let's start with the presumption that the team will start the season with a 4-2-3-1 formation, where two defensive mids will play in front of the defense. Obviously, that means the position will become all the more crucial, and the two players in this role will probably have slightly different focuses on the field. One would probably become a deep-lying distributor, like Simon Elliott was last year for Chivas, or will play as a box-to-box midfielder, a la Juninho with the LA Galaxy. In other words, covering the defense and winning balls in the middle of the field will be their main role, but they will be expected to chip in on the attacking end a few times a game. I would then expect the second defensive mid to stay at home, and really focus on the defensive side of the game and pretty much leave the attacking to the attackers.
Let's now turn our attention to the potential options for these slots for Chivas.Oswaldo Minda: The Goats made a splash by buying three South Americans this offseason, and big things are expected of all three. Minda has been getting good reviews by the front office upon his signing, and first-hand accounts of him in preseason training have been good as well. It seems likely that he will be in the starting eleven on opening day of the regular season, especially if Fraser uses two defensive midfielders.
Based on the available game footage of Minda floating around the internet, I think he will play as a box-to-box style midfielder. He looks like he can take over possession from opponents in midfield, but it also looks like he floats around the field where he is needed as well. He may score an occasional goal or two, but he probably can't be expected to hit more than three or four in a season. Although the hype for Minda has been pretty high in Chivas circles, he has barely been mentioned leaguewide, and he may sneak up on opponents in the first couple months of the season, which should be good for Chivas. If he can adjust to the MLS game, and life in the United States, Minda could really be a special player. He could be a building block for a squad that needs more core players.
Peter Vagenas: The most controversial signing of the offseason has featured heavily in preseason matches, and I think Fraser plans to use him from the start of the season. He's been paired with Minda a couple of times now, and it seems like it could be a fruitful partnership in the midfield. If Minda is given a role where he can play box-to-box, and can roam around some, I would expect Vagenas to stay back, in front of the defense, and mostly deal with the defensive duties in the middle of the pitch. If he's given a major role this season, I could see him becoming the on-field marshal and directing the action, with his play and his words (by the way, how's his Spanish?).
Chivas fans don't want to root for Vagenas, and I think it will be a matter of him proving himself on the field before the reservations start to drift away. Although he has said some inflammatory anti-Chivas things in the past, he's on the team now, and if he can strengthen the team, that's got to count for something, right? But if he can't hack it, watch out. He is in line to take over from Michael Umana as the team scapegoat if times are bad this year. Still, with a month to go it looks like Vagenas will likely be in the starting eleven come March 11.
Ben Zemanski: If I had my druthers, I would argue that Zemanski should be groomed as the defensive midfielder of the future for Chivas. How can a young player be groomed to take over the position for the next several years? You have to play him in the position. With his skillset that is so versatile, Zemanski does have an important function filling in everywhere except forward when necessary, but you know what they say about a jack of all trades. He has demonstrated he has the qualities to become a solid (and possibly more) holding midfielder, so why not start getting him the reps in an established position immediately? Yes, there will probably be growing pains, but I would advocate Zemanski and Vagenas in a timeshare in 2012, with the veteran and youngster splitting the time in the defensive midfield. Vagenas is 34, which means he could play beyond 2012 if it works out, but it is ultimately a short-term move. Zemanski is 23, and if he locks up the position, it could also add to Chivas' core players and offset the instability that has racked the club since it's founding.
Of course, Zemanski could become a supersub all over the field, or he could become a man without a position and fall out of the rotation altogether. I think this would be a mistake. With him returning to training next week after suffering from a concussion, we may see where Fraser puts Zemanski on the depth chart heading into the season.
Nick LaBrocca: Nick the Quick spent most of his MLS career as a defensive midfielder, before a complete void of midfield attacking talent last season led to his emergence as an attacking midfielder. If he continues his second-half slump from 2011 and has trouble scoring, moving back a little may ease the pressure and allow him to pick his attacking spots as a box-to-box midfielder. Plus, if Miller Bolanos is as talented an attacking midfielder as some believe him to be, it may make sense for LaBrocca to make way, especially if there will only be one central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Still, the presumption is that he'll start the season in the attacking role he made his own in 2011.
Michael Lahoud: It seems likely that Lahoud will play in midfield this season, and so far he has been playing on the wing this preseason. But given his history playing at full back and even as a defensive midfielder, he could also be an option in the role. It will be interesting to see the speed of the new players coming in, but last season, Lahoud was perhaps the only speed guy on the entire team. Typically, speed in central midfield, either at a defensive or attacking level is undervalued compared to all other areas of the field, so if the team is as slow this year, his speed may be wasted as a holding mid. Still, like Zemanski he has versatility that may lead to him playing as defensive midfielder in 2012.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!