Chivas USA 2012 Player Postmortem: James Riley

Riley: Soared for much of 2012, then tumbled. - Ric Tapia

Like his teammates, it was an up and down season for Riley.

For a player who was the minutes champ in all competitions for Chivas USA in 2012, James Riley's first season with the Goats followed that of the team. For two-thirds of the season, he was one of the best players on the team, and his ability to defend from the right back position and move up to progress the attack helped the team tremendously. But in the final third of the season his form fell off a cliff and the team's record spiraled down with it. He played more league games in 2012 than he previously had in his career, but not by much. In fact, it has to be one of the mysteries of the season as to why Riley struggled so much on the field between August and October.

When Chivas traded Justin Braun and Gerson Mayen for Riley just after the expansion draft last year, the initial expectations were muted. Not only did the Montreal Impact end up with Braun, a fan favorite, but they also selected Zarek Valentin in the expansion draft, and so picking up a replacement at right back right away was a good move to fill a position. But was trading two younger guys for a 29 year old the best move?

In comparing Riley's performances with Chivas with Valentin's for Montreal and Braun's for Montreal and Real Salt Lake, it appears Chivas got the better of the deal (although of course, it wasn't a two-for-one trade for Braun and Valentin). Valentin was pushed down the pecking order over the course of the season with the Impact, and Riley was certainly an upgrade at right back over Valentin's 2011 form with the Goats. Although he had previous success with Chivas, Braun struggled with both Montreal and RSL, failing to score a single goal in 2012 in limited minutes.

Again, for most of the season, Riley was a solid defender, and he got involved in progressing the attack. Although he didn't have outstanding assist statistics, Riley routinely led the team in touches, and perhaps more importantly, he spelled Ante Jazic, whose advanced age meant he couldn't be counted on to run up and down the field as regularly as he had in 2011. One could ask why Robin Fraser liked to have only one full back push up at a time, since opponents would readily know that Riley would move up far more often than Jazic, and could plan their strategies accordingly, but on the whole, Riley really solidified the position for much of the season.

Here were Riley's statistics for 2012:

Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 32 32 2,880 0 2 10 0 2 1*
U.S. Open Cup 3 3 270 0 0 0 0 1 0
Total 35 35 3,150 0 2 10 0 3 1

* Sort of

Riley was Chivas' only right back for nearly all of the season, and as it stands right now, he is still the only player in that position (assuming he is returning for 2013). There have to be concerns about Riley's late season form and if he can snap out of it with a full offseason, but when he is playing well, the defense is substantially better. Still, although he can be a full-time starter, Chivas ought to bring in a back-up or even competition for Riley in order to motivate him and give the team some insurance should he struggle or even worse, get injured. All of the Chivas players in 2012 had up and down seasons, and Riley epitomized that better than just about anyone.

Grades:

Scoring threat: B
Though he registered only a few shots, every offensive sequence began, or at least involved Riley. The fullback quietly integrated himself into the squad, leading all Chivas players in touches and minutes played.

Playmaker (Passing/Creativity): B
The pairing of Riley with Miller Bolanos was one of the few bright spots of 2012. Once Bolanos inserted himself in the lineup, the two players quickly established a rapport. Unfortunately, you could argue they so were too successful establishing the attack on the right flank, that it neutered the left and center.

Defense: B
Riley's responsibilities as a cog in the sputtering offense often left him out of position on counter attacks. Combining that with adapting to a new system and teammates often led to wide gaps in the backline. The embarrassing collision with Dan Kennedy in the first Portland Timbers match is perhaps the most obvious example.

- Matthew Hoffman

GM's Evaluation:

I was apprehensive when Chivas USA got him from Montreal in exchange for Valentin. With Valentin, we had a young talent who would really grow into his role. With Riley, we had a veteran who we knew would perform well at first, but may not have stuck it out all season. But contrary to what I thought, James Riley was the second best player on the team this season. He tended to be less flashy with his job than maybe Dan Kennedy was, but he got the job done and would often clean up the mess that was the rest of the team. Of course, there's no I in team, so his efforts alone couldn't help us out. As it stands now, he will be sticking around for the season, which I'm glad for. But as is the case with Ante Jazic, I hope we can find someone to be his backup.

- Rachna Kapur

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