Eric Avila really took one for the team to start 2014.
Moving into a right back role with no proper right backs on the roster, Avila, who at some points was Chivas USA's best attacking player in 2013, entered a new role and learned a new position on the fly, because his team needed it.
If Chivas had been a championship-winning team in 2014, Avila's selflessness would have been seen as an indication of the right attitude shown by the players who "bought in" to the system, but as it happened, he was simply helping out a scrambling team on yet another rebuild. There would be no bouquets, no titles to go with the sublimation of his best skills, only a few pats on the back before a respite and a move back to midfield midseason once a true right back, Akira Kaji, joined the team.
In some respects, Avila had been slowly moving to a defensive role, after Chelís used him as a wingback to start the 2013 season, before Jose Luis Real placed him in a traditional 4-5-1 system to end the year. Probably in an ideal situation, Avila would probably be a good wingback. As a full back? I'd say returns were more mixed.
To be fair to Avila, he entered the season as a 26-year-old, with six years of MLS experience. It's hard, though not impossible, to move positions at that point.
But with the overall weak pieces around him, Avila got no help and had to chip in to help out on the right side of the middle more often than not, and his lack of experience led to Chivas' defensive shape getting stretched out dramatically, which in turn led to goals. Were the breakdowns all down to him? Of course not. But there were plenty of times where he looked like a midfielder learning how to be a defender.
Here were Avila's statistics in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||29||26||2,171||0||1||16||5||2||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||120||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Once Donny Toia became a successful full back conversion, and more importantly, once Kaji joined the club in the summer transfer window, Wilmer Cabrera no longer had to play Avila at right back, and he moved back up the field.
Because he was played out of his best position, it's no surprise that Avila's production was the worst of his MLS career. In fact, he had one of his most successful years as far as tangible contributions in 2013, but he could only manage the single assist and no goals the following year. Of course, there were no playmakers on the team in 2013, while Mauro Rosales and Martin Rivero filled those roles for parts of 2014 for Chivas, so Avila was not required to step up as a supplier in the same way as the previous season.
Still, CUSA scored the fewest goals in the league, and it's not like they were so flush with scores that they didn't need extra help. With Rosales playing until August on the right flank, Avila ended up not having a place in the midfield, one likely reason why he was moved to right back in the first place, so Cabrera could have as many of his best players on the field as possible, even though he had to play out of position.
So 2014 ended up being kind of a weird season for Avila. He was fourth on the team overall in league minutes played, meaning he was key to Cabrera's plans, but he was much more of a role player than someone with his skill set normally is in MLS. Perhaps on a better team, he would make a pretty good role player, someone to plug holes, but on a team as talent-deprived as Chivas, he was clearly too good to play that role. Still, he deserves some credit for putting his head down and doing what was asked of him, even if it didn't showcase his best attributes.
As for his future, it appears to be up in the air, still. Though Chivas USA confirmed in September there was an agreement in place with Santos Laguna to sell Avila there at the end of the season, Avila somehow ended up in Chivas de Guadalajara training last month, with Chivas coach Chepo de la Torre saying he was on trial there. Then Avila's agent said that the Santos deal wasn't necessarily off, but didn't offer any explanation as to why he would be training with a rival Liga MX club.
So who knows what's happening there, honestly. Maybe he gets his chance to play in Mexico, or maybe he won't get any move and will be back in MLS. Since CUSA said they were selling him to Santos, that would mean he'd be under contract in MLS, but the trial business with Chivas makes it seem like he could be out of contract. Again, this is confusing. Who knows what's happening.
Either way, best of luck to Avila on his next team. He seems eager to play in Mexico, and it would be nice to see him really give it a shot, and if he ended up on Chivas, he could be playing with former Chivas USA teammate Erick Torres for awhile. But regardless of where he goes, he always did his part on the team, doing what the coaches asked him, and providing skill that few of his teammates could.
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