Featured image: Nicolae Stoian
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of season reviews of every Philadelphia Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2011 season.
At the end of the 2010 season, the jury was still out on Kyle Nakazawa. Public opinion was split nearly 50/50 about his prospects with the Union. Nakazawa backers pointed to his dead ball service, high pressure defense and vision as signs that he could grow into a productive, table-setting midfielder in MLS. His detractors, however, pointed to the UCLA product’s lack of speed and tendency to be a step slower than the play around him.
2011 saw an initial uptick in playing time for Nakazawa but, as the season wore on, Freddy Adu’s arrival and Roger Torres’ rapidly improving form caused Nakazawa to fall precipitously down the depth chart. Strictly a central midfielder, by season’s end he sat behind Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo (and perhaps Stefani Miglioranzi) in the holding midfielder role, while at attacking central midfield both Adu, Torres and even Veljko Paunovic and Zach Pfeffer were shown preference.
Going into 2012, fans are left to wonder how, or even if, Nakazawa fits into this team. With three or even four players rotating through the attacking fulcrum of the midfield, Nakazawa will have to continue to raise his offensive work rate if his minutes will again increase this upcoming season.
Justin Mapp was not the only player to have a breakout game against Toronto. It was Nakazawa who occupied the attacking central midfield role for the 6-2 road demolition of Toronto FC. After feeding Mapp for the Union’s second goal in the early going, Nakazawa would tally his first MLS goal in the 44th minute when he ran onto Danny Mwanga’s through ball, slotting coolly past Stefan Frei. Albeit against an exceedingly weak Toronto side, Nakazawa showed his desire to run the offense, looking lively both with the ball at feet and running into space.
A forgettable, starting cameo at right back against Sporting KC on September 23 sticks in the memory of the Union faithful as an embarrassing moment for Nakazawa when he was immediately exposed and switched back to midfield less than ten minutes into the match. It was hardly his fault. Nakazawa, who had barely trained in defense, was thrown into the deep end by the Union coaching staff after a concussion ruled Sheanon Williams out of the match.
As the season moved toward its conclusion, things became bleaker for Nakazawa, With the Union pushing for the postseason, Peter Nowak looked to other players in the squad over the final three months of the 2011 campaign. In the Union’s final 14 matches, Nakazawa featured only six times, four of which were appearances off of the substitute’s bench. With requisite minutes for Adu and the rise to form of Torres and Michael Farfan, there simply was no place in the midfield for a player like Nakazawa who has thus far failed to grow and improve at the rate of some of his teammates.
Set piece service. 2011 was the year of the free kick and the beautifully weighted cross. Just ask Brad Davis and David Beckham. While it is hard to anoint a player as a free kick specialist until one of his deliveries finds a teammate’s head and subsequently the back of the net, Nakazawa is the closest the Union have. That the aforementioned assist has yet to arrive is due to the Union’s lack of size and aggression in the opponent’s box rather than the quality of service being delivered. For Nakazawa, the next step is learning to drift into those wide areas where Beckham and Davis operate in order to find the space to cross in those deadly balls.
Speed and coping with the speed of play. In MLS, the center of midfield is a war zone. With the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Adam Moffat and Kyle Beckerman looking to crush anyone who enters it, that leaves three choices for attackers: either move the ball fast; be quicker than the opposition; or resign to being tackled, dispossessed and beaten up. Too many times, Nakazawa ended up in the third category as he was unable to turn possession into attack against sharper, quicker midfielders. While this can still be developed with time, other teammates have raced ahead of him. This offseason will be essential for Nakazawa to improve those elements of his game or he will be left behind as a professional.
With the Union, Nakazawa’s outlook is not great. With another team, it is far rosier. Left unprotected in the expansion draft, Nakazawa’s failure to fit in with Nowak’s system means the young midfielder could be used as trade bait in the team’s effort to improve defensive depth. In a team as young as the Union, players are less known as commodities and, with other young talent flourishing, Nakazawa quickly found himself filling the role of bench-warmer.
If he remains in Philadelphia, 2012 will be a make it or break it year for Nakazawa, a chance to prove that he can win a spot in the Union’s up tempo, counterattacking, run and gun offense.
If he is dealt to a team that can give him minutes and a consistent group of veteran leaders to bring him into a new, more traditional system, he could grow to fulfill the potential that has stagnated over the past year.
*Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; SHTS: Shots Faced; SV: Saves; GA: Goals Allowed; GAA: Goals Allowed Average; PKG/A: Penalty Goals/Attempted; W; Wins; L: Losses; T: Ties; ShO: Shutouts; W%: Win Percentage; SV%: Save Percentage; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards