We're moving up the ladder in minutes played in this series of 2011 player evaluations, and today's entry is Chris Cortez. The forward signed with Chivas USA to a professional contract in the middle of the season, and made nine appearances on the season with the first team. He played with the Chivas Academy prior to his promotion to the first team, and Robin Fraser seemed to like him enough to play him when he first arrived. His play on the reserve league team and his scoring there caught the eye of the coaching staff, and it was hoped he could provide goals off the bench for the main squad.
After being signed May 15, he played in each of the next five matches, starting once. Above all, he appeared nine times in his first 13 professional matches, but following his two minute shift on July 23 against the Houston Dynamo, he never appeared again in the season. Why the shift?There are several reasons why Cortez was dropped in July. First, he never scored this season, which as a forward is typically a problem. It is easy to see why Cortez would be wanted by Chivas - his size in particular provides a potential tool. At 6'4", Cortez has the height that could be of use in particular for headers and set pieces. The drawback is that his weight is listed at 185 pounds, and it seems he needs to gain some weight. Perhaps he and Zarek Valentin need to be put on the same nutrition and weight lifting regimen.
On the field, Cortez often looked a bit lost. Obviously, going from the low stakes and lower talent level of the reserve league to the bright lights of the real thing, with the upgrade in ability, is not an easy adjustment. Cortez is not the first player to need time adjusting to the professional game by any means, but his sense of positioning needs work and the speed of play is something he has to adjust to next season if he hopes to stay on the squad.
That said, he was buried on the depth chart in the last few months of the season for a couple of reasons. First, Alejandro Moreno played for Venezuela in the Copa America this summer, was gone for more than a month and when he returned to Chivas he went straight back into the lineup (and played very well the first few games). Also, following the acquistion of Juan Pablo Angel in August, JPA obviously also got into the lineup for all but a couple of matches. Even after Robin Fraser switched to a 4-3-3 formation near the end of the season, the forward rotation consisted of JPA and Moreno as automatic starts, and Marcos Mondaini and Justin Braun taking turns as the third forward starting and the first forward off the bench. Added to that was the very late emergence of Victor Estupinan, who pulled the same trick as Cortez, by scoring regularly in the reserve league at the end of the season and parlaying that into playing time with the first team. As a result, Cortez ended up at the bottom of the depth chart by season's end.
Still, he certainly has potential next season if he holds on to the roster spot. Cortez is exempt from the upcoming Expansion Draft, since he is a homegrown player, but if he is the last forward on the active roster, if Angel stays on the squad in 2012 and/or Chivas add any other forwards, his place could be precarious. Certainly, nine matches and 207 minutes is not much of a sample size to know if Cortez has what it takes to improve in the offseason and start contributing regularly to the first team. Can he do it, and will it be in the red and white? We'll have to wait and see.
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