Denzel Slager was the Orange County Blues' best prospect in 2015, no question about it.
The Dutch winger, signed in the spring after limited experience in the Eredivisie and English league, has the attributes scouts are looking for in a prospect. He's young, still just 22, he's big, and he's very fast. He can beat a defender on the dribble, and he can send in crosses to the box.
There's an awful lot to like about Slager's game, and his skills benefitted the Blues, as he notched six goals and two assists on the season and he often pulled defenders to his area of the field, indirectly helping his teammates find space for attacking chances, too.
Here were Slager's statistics in 2015:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||20||17||1,474||6||2||36||17||1||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
So given the obvious skills Slager displayed, what's the catch? Shouldn't a player who should be getting MLS looks (at a minimum) be playing at a higher level?
It's hard to say. Sometimes, players need to bounce around a bit before they find the right situation. That is entirely possible in Slager's situation.
He was hurt at a couple points in the season and missed considerable time. Given his speed and the way he forced defenders to account for him, lest they get burned, being out of the lineup took a dimension out of the Blues' attack, since there was no other player on the roster who could do what he does.
And the eternal question when discussing speedy wingers persists with Slager, at least to some extent. Wingers who are fast tend to be only fast and are much worse at the technical side of the game. I can see that to some extent with Slager, who probably would have turned many more heads if he notched around 10 assists and/or made it to at least 10 goals. There were moments when he beat a defender or two, cut inside, bearing down on the goal...and sent a tame shot right at the 'keeper. If he can improve his finishing soon, he'll become a real target for first-division teams.
The other scenario is that Slager is closely approaching his peak, and if that's the case, the Blues ought to take advantage of that as much as they can. He was fairly productive, but there's the feeling he could do more. Even if he can't, can the Blues take advantage of the games where he's feeling hot, and still keep him dangerous when he's not?
That seems to be the big quest for Slager in his career, building consistency. Injuries happen and can't be predicted, but if he can stay healthy and can be consistently productive, his stock will rise considerably. If he continues his spell with the Blues, he'll surely be welcomed back, and he'll be an important attacking weapon on the flank.
But I'm being a little hard on him because he's got the potential to be a player able to make the next step, if he can continue improving. It will take some work and probably a little luck, but it's also possible we'll see Slager on a bigger stage in the future, and can talk about back when we saw him developing with the OC Blues.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!