Chivas USA 2012 Player Postmortem: Nick LaBrocca

LaBrocca: Worked hard, but couldn't muster the troops in 2012. - Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

After joining Chivas USA at the start of the 2011 season, Nick LaBrocca had a breakout year, highlighted by an MLS All-Star selection. He led the team in goals and was second in assists, so it looked like Chivas had a midfielder to build the team around.

How did 2012 go for LaBrocca? Did he build on his strong 2011 season? In a word, no. Although he played a more withdrawn role in the midfield, tasked with providing more defensive cover, and he had a decent season, his offensive statistics indicated that 2011 was a blip, and he did not live up to his performances overall from the previous year.

That isn't to say that he had a terrible season. As ever, LaBrocca put his head down, worked hard, and didn't draw a lot of attention. The problem, however, was that he was regarded as a star now. Even when you talk to people who don't watch Chivas USA on a regular basis, but who think they know about the team (you know, just about everybody who follows the league), they rattle off things like "Dan Kennedy, he's one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and does a great deal to keep Chivas in games (true), and Nick LaBrocca, he's like their best offensive option (not true)."

LaBrocca is a good box-to-box midfielder, albeit one who defends much more than he attacks. With the emergence of Oswaldo Minda as defensive midfielder, LaBrocca provided a steady compliment, one who did not draw yellow cards at anything approaching the rate of Minda. And LaBrocca had a game-winning goal amongst his two, as he got the deciding goal against the Portland Timbers in their come-from-behind 2-1 win in April. And somewhat remarkably, those two goals gave LaBrocca enough to be the team's fourth-best league scorer in 2012. Perhaps the team's offensive lull dragged LaBrocca down with it?

It is entirely possible, but LaBrocca basically carried the scoring load for Chivas through the first half of the 2011 season. At the time, they didn't look particularly likely to score, either, but LaBrocca helped jumpstart the team's scoring, taken up occasionally by Justin Braun, before Juan Pablo Angel went on a tear to finish the season. In 2012, Braun was gone (although he scored no league goals in 2012), JPA was frequently injured, and still lead the team in scoring, and LaBrocca was the only fixture on the Goats' squad. Despite that, and because his scoring spurt really only lasted the first half of 2011, we need to stop calling LaBrocca any sort of offensive weapon. He can chip in with an occasional contribution, but expecting more than that is unlikely.

Here were LaBrocca's statistics for the year:

Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 29 26 2,293 2 2 36 14 3 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 29 26 2,293 2 2 36 14 3 0

Ok, time to get a little controversial. If Minda and Ben Zemanski remain on the team, LaBrocca might be surplus to requirements. Minda was clearly the class of the group as defensive mid in 2012, and there's no reason to believe he can't perform as well moving forward. Zemanski has improved substantially every season he's been in the league, and although he is versatile, a defensive mid or box-to-box midfield role would be his best.

After finding a way to get rid of Shalrie Joseph (which needs to happen), I think LaBrocca is Chivas' best trade chip. I don't think he needs to be shipped out for the sake of doing it, but if the team can get real value for him, they should. I think he's a solid player, but I think he's overrated around the league, and Chivas can potentially do something with that imbalance. Otherwise, I'm sure he'll continue to be a solid, if not outstanding, player for the Goats.

Grades:

Scoring threat: C
One of the bigger personal disappointments of 2012 was LaBrocca failing to build upon his breakout year. He had good moments of steady play but ultimately seemed ill-suited to run the offense as the Number 10 in the 4-2-3-1. If Chelis is to go with the same setup, he may be better served by sticking Juan Agudelo in that role as the youngster seems better equipped to handle the dual roles of striker and playmaker that the 10 spot requires.

Playmaker (Passing/Creativity): C
As a playmaker, LaBrocca seemed to be shifting in reverse, or at best driving sideways. Using the passing matrix MLS was kind enough to provide we can see that the bulk LaBrocca's passes went to:
* James Riley (151)
* Ben Zemanski (60)
* Miller Bolanos (80)
* Ante Jazic (56)
* Oswaldo Minda (50)
Of those recipients, only Bolanos attempted more than 18 shots this season.

It might only interest me but of Nick LaBrocca's 35 of his 65 unsuccessful cross attempts occurred in September alone.

1 @ San Jose
5 @ Seattle
8 San Jose
9 @ Columbus
7 @ DC United
5 Real Salt Lake

Defense: B+
LaBrocca was an above average defender. He won 27 tackles and pick 27 interceptions which averages out to nearly a one of each per game. He was valuable on breakaways often covering open parts of the field to cut off support and rebound attempts to the opponent.

- Matthew Hoffman

GM's Evaluation:

Oh Nick. After a great 2011, what happened to you? I can't even think of a great moment you had the entire 2012 season. I kept thinking "we need him to just get going" and you never did. I guess it shows that you can't be "that guy" for this team. If you can go back to being even a bit like your 2011 self, I would love to see you stay along for the ride.

- Rachna Kapur

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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