Tony Lochhead made a surprise return to MLS in 2014, as one of the first internationals to join Chivas USA (on a free transfer, of course) ahead of the season.
The defender had been with the New England Revolution in the past, but wasn't exactly regaled from that group, as he was mostly a squad player during some of that club's glory years.
Still, he went back to his native New Zealand, joined the new A-League side Wellington Phoenix in 2007, and became a fixture for them and New Zealand's national team over the next several years, as he played in the 2010 World Cup and faced off against Mexico in the ill-fated intercontinental playoff to get into the 2014 World Cup.
For a team that had zero left backs on their roster in 2013, bringing an experienced hand like Lochhead aboard was a no-brainer for Chivas USA heading into the season. And he finished the campaign in the top 10 on the club in minutes played, which was fairly impressive considering he dealt with a few minor injuries during the season and ended up losing his place in the lineup.
Here's Lochhead's statistics in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||20||19||1,697||0||1||1||0||6||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||120||0||1||0||0||0||0|
So considering he lost his place, how was Lochhead's season? Clearly, it was a mixed bag. At 32, he had loads of experience, and his positional awareness was pretty good. But he was slow, and between trying to keep up with speedy wingers and outside forwards, and pinching in to try and help out CUSA's oft-overmatched center backs, Lochhead did not often lock down his area of the field. On one hand, he did rise to the occasion at times, and in particular was a vital part of the defense that held a shutout streak during the winning run coming out of the World Cup break.
But Chivas were not good defensively overall, and let in the second-most goals in the league in 2014. The limitations were clear, and although he could put in a decent shift, the players collectively simply weren't good enough to get wins regularly.
Lochhead did contribute two really good assists on the season, in each of the competitions Chivas participated in, and they were nice balls into the box to Ryan Finley on a diving header to tie up the U.S. Open Cup game against the Carolina RailHawks, and to Erick Torres on his volleyed golazo in the Goats' first win against Real Salt Lake. Perhaps not coincidentally, these assists came in consecutive games. If Lochhead had been able to move forward in the attack more often, maybe Chivas could have scored more goals, because he was capable of good service. But his primary job was to defend, and with the team's defense being so weak, the veteran could not afford to consistently bomb forward on the left flank.
I think one reason why Donny Toia ended up taking over for Lochhead at left back was because the Kiwi dealt with a few injuries during the season, and Toia emerged as a capable alternative. Though not experienced at the position, he seemed to have the potential to grow into the new role and rose to the challenge more often than not over the course of the season.
One of the curiosities of 2014 is that both of the starters at left back ended up finishing in the Top 10 for minutes for CUSA. Despite being displaced for the most part by Toia late on (Toia did play a couple of games at right back, where he did not look nearly as comfortable), Lochhead did see action at center back towards the end of the season, as Bobby Burling and Carlos Bocanegra dealt with injuries (Boca's, of course, was career-ending), and before Chivas brought in reinforcements at CB with the trade for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. That Lochhead was really not a center back but was pressed into that position out of desperation says quite a bit about the dire state of the defense, especially when injuries hit. Wilmer Cabrera would rather play somebody out of position, albeit someone with plenty of pro experience, over young center backs like Andrew Jean-Baptiste or Michael Nwiloh.
But while Lochhead had some good moments and helped out his team where they needed him, it seemed like Toia's emergence represents a crossroads for him in his career. Can he carry on somewhere? Of course. But I think that if it's to be in MLS, it's going to be as a squad player, because I just don't see him as a starter any longer. I think he could do well in NASL or USL PRO, perhaps even with a coaching role included in his job description, as a way for him to adjust to a post-playing career.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, no MLS team has picked up Lochhead yet. I have a feeling that he won't be back in the league in 2015, though you never know. All in all, I think the New Zealand native had some good moments with Chivas USA, but like most of his teammates, he struggled quite a bit in 2014. He always seemed to give it his all, and was a professional, but sometimes effort just isn't enough.
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