We've come to the end of the end-of-season series on Chivas USA players, and today's entry comes from the guy who was on the field for every league match in 2011, Nick LaBrocca. The midfielder joined the Goats in the offseason in a trade for Alan Gordon with Toronto FC. At TFC, he primarily played at defensive midfielder. After coming to Chivas, the squad was looking for a dynamic attacking midfielder to link up play and test defenses, and to the surprise of all, even perhaps LaBrocca himself, he took the mantle. In addition to leading the team in minutes played (3,058), appearances (34, all starts), and goals (8, more than double his MLS career total). He was also second on the team in assists, with six, so in all, he was involved in just over a third of the team's goals in 2011.
As a result, LaBrocca was the offensive MVP of Chivas for 2011, and would be the overall team MVP if it hadn't been for the exceptional season Dan Kennedy had. As a result of LaBrocca's surprising run, he got an all-star selection, and actually played pretty well against Manchester United when he saw the field in the second half, but by that time, the MLS all-stars were demoralized and could not get their act together. Still, even getting the midseason recognition was a pleasant surprise, and LaBrocca turned a lot of heads in 2011.It was clear that Chivas coach Robin Fraser trusted LaBrocca, and the 27 year old fits in the mold of a team that badly needed a spine of players near their peak. Along with Kennedy and Heath Pearce in defense, LaBrocca should be a player who could start a new chapter in Chivas USA history moving forward, assuming he can continue to play at around the same level for several more seasons as in 2011. And given the surprise that he is capable of scoring at a relatively high rate, with a variety of different ways to score, he seems to be a lock in what is increasingly looking like a stacked midfield in 2012. Even supposing Chivas got an outstanding attacking midfielder (imagine it: perhaps even a designated player of our own!), LaBrocca could still slot back as a defensive midfielder, or even just play as more of a box-to-box midfielder, something he demonstrated in 2011 from time to time. Although he toiled in near-anonymity throughout his MLS career, the versatility he's cultivated could be a real asset for him, as well as for Chivas.
What's more, LaBrocca is universally known as a humble, down to earth player. traits that could help in building a new culture at Chivas. While results on the field are most important, having a player that is more substance than style can help the team win but also set themselves apart from the other LA team. In other words, you could do worse than have a quiet, unassuming guy who works hard on the field.
At midseason, it appeared LaBrocca would be the undisputed MVP of the squad, and if there is any criticism on what was overall a fantastic season, it's that he seemed to lose steam in the second half of the season. I think there are a few possible reasons for this. First, there's the possibility that he just got tired over the course of the campaign. He didn't get hurt, though, and I think he looked pretty good over the course of the season, but still, it's possible he was fatigued and playing through it. I think two other reasons are more important here. First, by midseason, most teams had faced Chivas at least once, and there was plenty of game tape on him in his new role available for teams to study him and plan. So I think teams were able to defend him better because the element of surprise was gone. Furthermore, the arrival of Juan Pablo Angel to Chivas in August took some of the pressure off LaBrocca, and with Angel scoring seven goals in nine matches, LaBrocca did not have the same responsibility as before. After Angel's arrival, LaBrocca scored one goal and had two assists.
So the question becomes whether LaBrocca should have played a bit better in the second half of the season, or if his play and the circumstances surrounding him that led him to revert back towards the mean. I think 2012 is going to be a big season, both for LaBrocca and for Chivas. It will be season two of the Robin Fraser project at Chivas, and if LaBrocca can put in a season similar to 2011, Chivas can hopefully make a leap and possibly contend for a playoff berth. The fact that Fraser went out and got LaBrocca and then put him on the field to have a revelatory season bodes well for his player personnel decisions in general. Perhaps this is just a taste of what's to come, and if Nick the Quick is in the mix, Chivas fans have reason to be optimistic moving forward.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!