Before Philadelphia Union disbanded for the offseason, midfielder Kyle Nakazawa talked about his desire to become a more complete player at the professional level.
The UCLA product used the term “box-to-box” to describe his intentions in 2011, a more attractive label than the “set piece specialist” reputation he began to develop as a rookie.
With an eye towards carving out a larger role during Philadelphia's second season, the 22-year-old went to work in the offseason.
“I was maintaining my fitness base, lifting, working on what I wanted to do in the offseason, which is get stronger,” said Nakazawa, the 33rd overall pick in last year’s MLS SuperDraft. “I took a little time off from touching the ball, but I was trying to maintain my strength and get ready for this preseason.”
Nakazawa also found time during the offseason to launch a soccer camp in Hawaii, boasting the likes of teammate Jordan Harvey and Seattle Sounders midfielder David Estrada (Nakazawa's teammate at UCLA) as instructors.
His entrepreneurial spirit didn't adversely affect his primary occupation, though, as Nakazawa’s hard work is already paying off just two weeks into preseason. The former US youth international finished second on the club in the dreaded “beep test” last week, one spot ahead of workhorse Sebastien Le Toux. The obvious hope for Nakazawa is that a heightened fitness level will lead to more playing time, which in turn would present an opportunity for increased production.
WATCH: Kyle and Sebastien's Crib
Looking back to Nakazawa’s college days, particularly his senior season, there’s ample evidence of offensive explosiveness beyond what was on display last season. Nakazawa netted 12 goals and seven assists as a senior at UCLA, leading the Pac-10 in points.
After compiling 798 minutes and eight starts as a rookie with Philadelphia, the 2010 draft day steal has plenty of room for growth – and he knows it.
“I am no longer a rookie,” Nakazawa explained, “so I think for me (the goal) is just having a much bigger impact on the field every opportunity I get. And it’s not just dead balls – my set pieces – it is being dynamic in the attack. My role as a midfielder is playing box-to-box, playing good defense and creating opportunities in the attack.”
With a continued strong preseason, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Nakazawa figure into the Union’s starting lineup on opening day. At the very least, his role as a second-year player figures to expand, just as the club as a whole has increased expectations in year two.
“I think we are very optimistic going into this new season,” said Nakazawa. “We are not an expansion team anymore. We added a bunch of guys that I think are going to help us in the long run.”
While he may not be a new face anymore, there's more to Nakazawa's game than Union fans have witnessed.
In 2011, his objective is to prove it.
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