In the world of soccer, there’s no one position on the field that’s more important than another.
They say “defense wins championships," but teams aren’t lifting that trophy without putting the ball in the back of the net. That’s why a capable attack is just as important as a cohesive backline.
Every team needs that versatile central midfielder - a ball winner, a distributor, a two-way general with vision and command. It’s a role that Kyle Nakazawa says he wants to fulfill.
Having just shed the rookie label, the 22-year-old California native says he’s looking to expand his game. And he says the professional structure in Philadelphia is helping him move in that direction.
“I would say being pushed every day, and
being in a competitive environment every day, just the atmosphere that we made
as a team and with the coaching staff has really helped me as a player and to
improve on things every day,” Nakazawa told philadelphiaunion.com recently.
“The coaching staff has really tried to help me with the defensive part of my game, and becoming a two-way midfielder, a box (to box) midfielder. That is probably the most specific area I would like to improve.”
That box-to-box role is one of the most coveted in world football. Midfielders like Michael Bradley, Michael Essien and Daniele De Rossi are hard to find. The role requires endless stamina, defensive skill, and the ability to assert yourself in the final third.
Traditionally, central midfielders have had more defined roles. Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso is known for his defensive tenacity and work rate, but lack of offensive skills. That’s often handled by midfield partner Andrea Pirlo.
Likewise, Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez is a creative attacker who needs defensive help. Enter Yaya Toure and Sergio Busquets, filling the holding role.
Other midfielders are specialists - dead ball masters like Juninho Pernambucano, and Shunsuke Nakamura.
That one part of Nakazawa’s game is already polished. With precision, power, and accuracy, it was evident from day one that Nakazawa is dangerous on set pieces and brings a different element to the attack. There's a reason the Columbus Crew have been so effective in dead ball scenarios - Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
The main reason Schelotto isn't being brought back in 2011, however, is because his overall form has dipped. Nakazawa understands that he can't rely on his set piece ability when fighting for minutes next season.
“I have always felt comfortable on set
pieces, but I feel next year I really need to try to be a lot more dynamic
offensively - not just creating
dangerous opportunities for us on set pieces, but also in the run of play,” he said.
Nakazawa is one of many Union youngsters who will look to improve on their inaugural season.
[inline_node:288128]Selected 33rd overall in the 2010 SuperDraft, Kyle made 14 appearances this year. He started in eight of those games, tallying 798 minutes on the season.
When you look at the role of midfielders in MLS, look no further than MLS Cup 2010. Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastoeni, and David Ferreira are all accomplished players who featured in a key role getting their teams to the final.
For Nakazawa and the Union, the offseason is already underway. And the focus is simple – working hard so that this time next year the Union are still competing.
“Specifically, right now, just staying
fit," Nakazawa said. "As long as I am always fit, the rest will come. If you lose the fitness
it is the hardest thing to regain. So, specifically this offseason, my goal is
just to stay sharp and in shape.
“(The offseason) is a little weird. We are used to having a routine and being ready every day for training and I am a little lost at what to do during the day now. But we have been training the last couple weeks a couple times a week, so it will be a nice little break."
Like most Union players, Nakazawa will make use of the time off. It’s the mandatory mental and physical recharge that follows a long season.
“I am going to home for a little bit, you know, for my family and friends," he said. "I will take a little time off, but I want to stay sharp in the offseason and do some training. I might go somewhere to train and I am running a camp in Hawaii as well for kids.”
And though the Expansion
Draft is next week, Nakazawa says he’s not worried.
“It is not in my control. You can only control the controllable and what I can do is just work hard on my own, try to improve, and the rest will fall into place.”