Continuing our evaluation of Chivas USA at the approximate midpoint of the season, today we'll look at the midfield. If you missed our first two installments, check out the reports on our goalkeepers from Tuesday and defenders from yesterday. Considering the Goats have used quite a few guys in the midfield so far, let's get on with the show...
Again, a reminder of Chivas' record at the moment: 19 MLS games (1 U.S. Open Cup Qualifier): 22 points (5-7-7) (0-1-0 in USOC); 6th in Western Conference, 10th place overall.
Nick LaBrocca: When Chivas traded for LaBrocca just before the start of the season from Toronto FC for Alan Gordon, expectations were pretty low. He had a few years' experience in the league, seemed like a squad player in his time with Colorado, and if TFC were willing to part ways with him, how good could he be? Well, I think so far, Chivas fans will take the trade 10 times out of 10. To use a basketball analogy, perhaps his Chauncey Billups-like quest for a home is over.
Continued after the jump.
LaBrocca is having a remarkable first season with Chivas. He has been involved in 38% of the team's goals (6 goals, 3 assists), has started every match, and has some grit and can mix it up with the opposing midfield when his team needs it. "Nick the Quick" is peaking at a good moment for his all-star chances, and is getting some headlines around the league, so he may end up getting a selection. Unquestionably, he is Chivas' team MVP so far this season, and is a player that looks to be a fixture for the future for the Goats.
LaBrocca's midseason grade: A
Simon Elliott: The Kiwi journeyman has brought the experience and defensive coverage to the Goats' midfield. After starting the season on the sidelines with injuries, he came into the lineup to anchor the back of the midfield diamond, doing much of the dirty work, expecting the most from his teammates, being the vocal on-field marshal for the team, and distributing the ball from Chivas' half. I think the graybeard has been underrated for the Goats, and they look a lot less assured when he's not on the field. One of the interesting subplots in the second half will be to see how Fraser incorporates Elliott and Nagamura in the midfield at the same time. Their roles are not identical, as Elliott is more defensive-minded and Nagamura is an offense-first holding midfielder, but unless Nagamura plays on the wing, they may be battling for places, as LaBrocca is a fixture at the top of the diamond. So far, picking up Elliott has paid dividends because Nagamura has spent most of the first half on the training table, but it remains to be seen how Fraser stocks the midfield in the second half.
Elliott's midseason grade: B+
Ben Zemanski: The second-year pro has become Chivas' swiss army knife in the midfield. He had a solid rookie season last year, but it was hard to know if he could make the leap in a new era for the club, but he has done well in the first half. Early this year, Fraser played Zemanski briefly at center back, but with Simon Elliott and Paulo Nagamura out, he played a fair amount at defensive midfield. Since Elliott and Nagamura have returned, Zemanski has played on the right wing of the diamond, and has chipped in with 2 goals and 3 assists to bolster the attack. Zemanski is often overshadowed by the likes of LaBrocca and Mondaini, but he takes care of business no matter where he's playing, and he is quietly having a pretty good season. His versatility will keep him on the field in the second half.
Zemanski's midseason grade: B
Jorge Flores: Sueno, the local boy, the Mexican American, the sentimental favorite, is having a very good season so far. In the past, he did mostly spot duty, and there were fears that he was on the team as more of a marketing gimmick than because the coaches believed in him. But Fraser has liked his play, and he has started 15 games this season. No question, it is his breakout season, and the 21-year old looks like he really belongs in the professional game. In fact, he is the longest-serving member of the team, believe it or not. But Flores has really become a solid left winger for Chivas, has a goal and assist on the season, and often stands out with his skill and workrate when his teammates are faltering. Moving forward, I still think he needs to work on his consistency and finishing, as he ought to score at least a few more goals, but through the first half, he seems like a lock for most improved player for Chivas.
Flores' midseason grade: B
Francisco Mendoza: Panchito is a fan favorite, and is on the cusp of breaking the Chivas all-time appearances record. But he has not played very much this season, starting 2 and coming off the bench in 9 games in the first half. Fraser has played him in midfield and defense, so his versatility is a positive, but he is pretty far down the depth chart. Occasionally his lack of size hurts him against opposing teams, and he can be bullied off the ball, but he does ok in spot duty. I do think Fraser will continue to use him as a substitute for defensive purposes, but he is definitely not going to bust into the starting lineup from week to week anytime soon.
Mendoza's midseason grade: C+
Paulo Nagamura: So far this season, Nagamura hasn't been able to get over his injury woes, and hasn't featured much, playing in only seven games. The Brazilian's healthiest stretch came for most of June and into this month, which unfortunately coincided with Chivas' worst stretch of the season, including their 3 game losing streak. I don't place the blame on Nagamura for that slide, but getting into game shape and having the quality to force his way into the lineup may have unsettled a midfield unit that looked pretty cohesive most of the time without him. As I mentioned with Elliott, if Nagamura can get healthy for an extended period, it may result in a selection headache for Fraser. The easy solution would be to leave Nagamura on the bench unless it looks like the team needs a change, but I do think he needs more of a chance and get into full game shape before we decide whether he is an automatic starter or not. Perhaps the second half will shed more light on his place in the 2011 Chivas team.
Nagamura's midseason grade: Limited time, but a C for the time he has played
Blair Gavin: Another sophomore midfielder, Gavin was the preseason pick of many to become the offensive fulcrum for the squad, but a severe hamstring injury limited his action until this month, so he has only started 3 and played in 7 total games for the season. It remains to be seen what his on-field role will be as he plays into shape, as this team is currently built around LaBrocca. But Gavin is rated to have excellent skills on the ball in attack, so maybe he can bolster the offense, either from the start or off the bench, from the wings or center of the field. We need to see more to really see how he fits in this team this year.
Gavin's midseason grade: Incomplete
Gerson Mayen: Away from Chivas, Mayen is making lots of moves, as he recently switched his national allegiance for soccer to El Salvador from the U.S. But with the Goats, the academy product is not seeing the field very much. The 22 year old has played in 4 games and started 1, and is clearly on the outside looking in. He has an assist in his limited action, but if he wants to represent El Salvador anytime soon, the reality is that unless something major changes around Chivatown, he may need to move on, either soon, or after the season.
Mayen's midseason grade: Incomplete
What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know!