Towards the end of last season, Alejandro Moreno started moving to new places on the field for Chivas USA during matches. As Robin Fraser started implementing a 4-3-3 formation, Moreno was the forward who began moving back into midfield, while Juan Pablo Angel and Justin Braun/Marcos Mondaini would stay up top during games. The evolving role seemed to work well for Moreno, and it appears the same situation might be in the works for 2012.
As Adam Serrano discussed on the league website over the weekend following Chivas' preseason match with the Chicago Fire, Moreno has been playing in midfield in some preseason action. Instead of starting out nominally up top but dropping back to the midfield for most of the match, Fraser has actually started playing him more formally in midfield. Is this an effective move for Ale? Let's look at the talking points.If you read this site with any regularity, you know that I regard Moreno's best talent at this stage in his career as drawing fouls. On one hand, I stand by that assessment, and I think he does a damn fine job of drawing contact and causing stoppages in play. The problem in 2011 was that Chivas seldom converted those set piece opportunities, so his efforts were normally in vain. Upon further consideration, I would add that Moreno's second best skill in 2011 was poaching goals. Although he scored five, good for fourth on the team, and he had a knack for popping up in front of goal at the right time on several of those goals, I don't think you could call him an out and out goal poacher. Still, he was the player who was able to score most consistently directly in front of goal when it was needed. That is probably more an indirect indictment of his teammates than of Moreno himself.
I have maintained as well that Moreno is a support striker, and cannot be counted on carrying the scoring load. By moving him back, he can do that support role from a deeper position, which could potentially work well. And he could still draw fouls from the midfield, although the situation would have to differ for those fouls to set up legitimate scoring opportunities on set pieces. Free kicks from the center circle very seldom turn into goals, so Moreno would have to probably get closer to goal and do it in situations when much of his teammates are up in the opponent's third in order to make a worthwhile opportunity. Otherwise, it's probably just a break in play that will not result in sustained possession or a goal scoring opportunity.
But what of the poacher playing in midfield? It's possible he could still serve this function, even if he starts further back, by making timed runs into the box and just hanging out in front of goal. I sincerely hope the new forwards coming in this season are actually willing to go directly to goal, to hang out in the box waiting for a rebound or pass, because that was a major deficit last year. And then Moreno's influence in the box won't be so important overall.
This new position for Moreno reminds me of JPA with the Galaxy last year. When I saw him in the superclasico when he was with the Galaxy, my initial thought was that Angel still had talent, vision, and skill, but didn't seem remotely comfortable scoring actual goals. So I suggested he be moved back and play more of a distributor role and pick his spots on the attack. Of course, after joining Chivas, he regained his scoring touch, almost overnight. The irony is that JPA looks set to be lead striker for 2012, while Moreno is being touted as moving back. There are some major risks with this scenario. First and foremost, JPA is not actually under contract, even now. The signs point to him playing for Chivas this season, but it is not locked in yet. Secondarily, if he is eventually officially signed, he and Moreno are among the oldest starting forwards in the league. Behind them is Casey Townsend, and perhaps another trialist or Academy player to be signed. So going from two guys with a ton of experience but also a lot of mileage on the tires, to guys who have little to no professional experience is a big risk.
Finally, with all the other options in midfield, it is a bit puzzling as to why Moreno should actually be played in midfield instead of dropping back from the forward position. It may seem like quibbling to some extent, but if Moreno is displacing Nick LaBrocca, Miller Bolanos, Blair Gavin, Oswaldo Minda or any of the other midfielders (seriously, there are like six more off the top of my head) it makes you wonder why Chivas went on a signing spree with all those midfielders in the first place.
Still, I know this is preseason, a time for experimentation, and I cannot draw any firm conclusions from putting Moreno in midfield at the moment. And if Fraser sticks with this plan, and if it leads to points, I can't fault it. All players put skills on the table and take skills away, and it remains to be seen if Moreno's skills are best suited to a forward or midfield position for the 2012 season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!