There are a few veterans on Chivas USA's squad who can play in a couple of positions. In particular, I'm thinking of Ben Zemanski, Michael Lahoud, and Jorge Villafaña. We'll set Zemanski aside for the moment, until the situation at midfield shakes out over the coming weeks, but it seems as though Lahoud and Villafaña will swap positions between 2011 and 2012. Let's discuss this further.
In 2011, Lahoud emerged as the primary backup full back for the team. Along with Mariano Trujillo, Lahoud filled in when Ante Jazic and Zarek Valentin were hurt or away on international duty. Although Lahoud has been a midfielder, the club's lack of depth and Lahoud's speed for a unit that didn't have any made him an interesting project for Chivas coach Robin Fraser. The returns were mixed. I could see him staying on the backline this season as well, as getting more reps in defense could certainly help him understand the technical components of the position, but he could be far out of position at times, and his speed couldn't always make up for his mistakes. Frankly, however, it's not like the collective unit was much better last year.A recent article by Scott French over at ESPN highlighted Lahoud's desire to play in midfield again. He played on the wing in last Friday's preseason match against FC Hasental, and while one match does not make a starter, he reportedly played very well. It seems his vow to work hard in the offseason may be paying off, and with the club bringing in more defenders, he may not have to play in the back any longer. The problem, however, is that he still may have trouble seeing a lot of time in midfield. While he is capable of playing both as a defensive midfielder or a winger, competition is steep over there. He has a leg up in terms of experience and knowledge of the MLS style, so that may help him. But I would be surprised if he became a regular starter this season at midfield. Of course, he could have a LaBroccaian leap in form and surprise everybody. I certainly wouldn't have a problem with that, would you?
The other player whose position may change for the Goats is Villafaña. Prior to 2011, he played sparingly and was mostly thrown around willy-nilly on the field. But last season he got his chance, and featured regularly for the first three-quarters of the season at left wing. He demonstrated that he is more than a marketing gimmick, and while he still needs to develop some consistency, he made a leap last season. And staying in one position really seemed to help his development.
A funny thing happened after the 2011 season, however. Villafaña got called into both offseason U.S. Men's National Team U23 training camps. The thing was that he was called up as a defender. It seemed strange to me considering he hadn't played as a left back at all in 2011 (except perhaps late in games in a brief tactical switch). But he seems to have a really good shot at making the U23 team for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament next month. The tournament will come shortly after the MLS season begins, and if the U.S. gets to the final of the tournament they will win a trip to the Olympic tournament in London in late July and early August. Potentially, he could be away during both of those stretches. As surprising at it seemed, if it actually happened, I think Chivas fans would welcome the prestige for our longest tenured veteran (yeah, I know).
Fraser has no obligation to play Villafaña at left back during the 2012 MLS season, but I have a feeling he will move back. On one hand, it will help him sharpen his game, not only for the Goats but potentially for the U23s. But again, with the anticipated depth in midfield, moving him back will probably help ease the congestion in the middle of the field. Plus, if Jazic could help mentor Villafaña, the team potentially could have left back wrapped up for the next several years between the two players. This is telegraphing a lot, I realize, but again, if he's good enough to play in a competitive tournament for a U.S. underage squad, maybe he's good enough to settle in the position permanently.
Keep in mind, of course, that it is preseason, and Lahoud and Villafaña could still revert back to the positions they played in 2011. But in reading the tea leaves at the moment, the two players look set to switch units in 2012.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!