There is a longstanding dispute over positions for talented players in soccer. On one hand, some players can be very good at several positions, so they are shuttled back and forth depending on the team's needs. Geoff Cameron of the Houston Dynamo and Brek Shea of FC Dallas come to mind, as both players spent time switching between midfield and defense for their respective teams before settling on a position in 2011, at least for now.
Another school of thought believes that players who switch back and forth do themselves no favors over time, and need to be locked into a particular position in order to maximize their impact. Again, Shea had a breakout season in 2011, in part because of maturity and seasoning as a professional, but also in part because Schellas Hyndman quit playing him as a defender and let him run wild as a left-sided midfielder.
It's a delicate balance, and I think there's a time and a place for each strategy. Still, today's entry in our season review, Chivas USA midfielder Ben Zemanski, was the designated swiss army knife for the Goats in 2011. Although he spent most of the season as a midfielder, he moved from a defensive midfielder to a box to box midfielder to a winger to a center back last season. He mostly flew under the radar, but Zemanski was a key piece for Chivas in 2011.In his third season with Chivas, Zemanski was sixth on the team in minutes played and appearances, seeing action in 28 matches (23 starts). He scored his first two MLS goals in 2011, and contributed four assists, good for fourth on the team. He started two matches in defense as an emergency center back, and while he would need more training if he were to become an every-match defender, he looked to be solid. Robin Fraser clearly rated him highly, given the minutes played and the versatility in position. He was also one of the select eleven players to be protected from the Expansion Draft last month - a sign that this team rates him highly when they were willing to let Zarek Valentin, another former University of Akron player, get taken for nothing. Obviously, Fraser has explained that the main reason Chivas left Valentin unprotected was his salary, and Zemanski had none of those problems, making just $44,000 in 2011, which is a hair above the league minimum. In my opinion, Zemanski could potentially be one of the best values in 2012.
Again, given his versatility, I think Zemanski provides an element that no other player can on the team. Although Michael Lahoud is also able to play in defense and midfield, I doubt we'll see him as center back at any point, and making the shift between the wing and full back is, relatively speaking, easier. In contrast, Zemanski has an awareness that serves him well all over the field. He can contribute on the attacking end, but more importantly, he seems very capable of doing the dirty work in midfield for his teammates.
He has some growth in his game, and his full potential isn't yet realized, so it's hard to say what Zemanski can do moving forward. He's only 23, but I really think he could potentially become the defensive midfielder of the future, perhaps the near future, for Chivas. Simon Elliott handled the duties of the position for most of the 2011 season, but while his distribution was good, his defense was sometimes quite poor. Zemanski can potentially take the mantle and make the position his own, especially considering Elliott is out of contract, and getting pretty advanced in years. Also, Paulo Nagamura's now at Sporting Kansas City, so the stage may be open for Zemanski to lock it up for 2012, and potentially for years to come.
It is difficult to project the potential of a defensive midfielder, considering the unsung role they often play. But I seem to be with the coaching staff on this one - I think Zemanski can become a very good player in this league. Let's hope he builds on a good 2011 with an even better 2012 for the Goats.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!