Davide Chiumiento: he's explosive, talented, Swiss, and potentially our best offensive player. Potentially. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
Thus far in his Whitecaps career, the pride of Heiden, Switzerland Davide Chiumiento has played for about half an hour. So it may seem a little early to start judging the guy.
Nonsense. It's never too early to start drawing conclusions about new Vancouver Whitecaps! Besides, Chiumiento is no rookie. Despite being only twenty-five years old, Chiumiento has played almost 150 league games as a professional in some of Europe's better leagues, including a run out in Serie A and some loan experience in both Serie B and France's Ligue 1. He also played briefly for the Italian U-21s before returning to his native Switzerland after realizing he'd never make the Italian team, no doubt heralding the future international career path of one Jonathan de Guzman.
Since signing with the Whitecaps back in mid-August, Chiumiento has been maybe the most eagerly anticipated of Vancouver's new signings (that'll happen when they're calling you "the Swiss Ronaldinho") but he's also taken the longest to make his mark. We've seen Alexandre Morfaw, Gershon Koffie, Ridge Mobulu, Cody Arnoux, Terry Dunfield, Willis Forko, way too much of Jonathan McDonald, but until Friday night we hadn't seen Davide Chiumiento. It got me wondering if there was such a person, or if Chiumiento had read his own Whitecaps web profile and said "wait, I'm the Swiss Ronaldinho, what the hell am I doing in the North American second division?" But, no, it turns out that Teitur Thordarson was just taking it easy with Chiumiento; a policy that looked awfully sound when he made his first appearance and damned near became a hero immediately with a superb performance.
There's a lot of buzz around Chiumiento these days. He came in with a tonne of hype and made an impressive debut for a team which would eat dirt to get some scoring. Even Teitur Thordarson was impressed, saying that Chiumiento is definitely in for more playing time against Portland later this week. So what's the excitement about? What's Chiumiento got that makes him so valuable for the Whitecaps not only now but going forward?
Like another recent Whitecaps acquisition, Jonathan McDonald, Chiumiento looks bloody good in oozingly complimentary YouTube video form. But unlike McDonald Chiumiento hasn't made his bones against furniture and concrete highway barriers for defenders in the Costa Rican league. While far from the top rank of Europe, the Swiss first division is a perfectly respectable league; ranked sixteenth in UEFA along with the likes of Scotland. And Chiumiento was a star there, among the leading players of a team that finished fourth in the league last year and which includes players of international reputation such as captain Hakan Yakin and Montenegran international defender Elsad Zverotić.
Of course the title of "the Swiss Ronaldinho" is gross hyperbole, but every report compliments Chiumiento's ball skills. You don't get through Juventus's youth system as an attacking midfielder without learning to handle the ball; he's been described as "one of the best technicians in the Super League" (German) by Switzerland's Sportal.ch.
But Chiumiento's reputation is not universally spotless, In May of 2009 he got into a dispute with journeyman Austrian manager Rolf Fringer when Fringer expressed dissatisfaction with Chiumiento's play (German) and limited the midfielder's minutes in a manner that Chiumiento found unfair (German), including substituting Chiumiento out when Chiumiento thought he was playing quite well. As early as April of that year, the Swiss press was speculating (German) that Chiumiento would leave when his contract expired if not sooner. In spite of these problems and Chiumiento's eventual departure, when he was called to the Swiss team for the first time in March of this year Chiumiento made a point (French) of complimenting Fringer and crediting his coach for his development as a footballer.
By March, Fringer and FC Lucerne were openly stating that they expected Chiumiento to leave when his contract expired (German). There was interest reported from Wolfsburg in Germany and Sporting Lisbon in Portugal: when it was announced he would go to Vancouver the reaction was one of barely-restrained incredulity (German); 88.9% of readers in one Swiss website's poll said that Chiumiento had gone insane to sign with Vancouver.
The great concern with Chiumiento is size: he's not only a mere 5'7" but thin to go along with it. MLS has a reputation as a physical league and can be rough on its attacking players. But three of Major League Soccer's five all-time leading scorers were 5'8": Landon Donovan, Jason Kreis, and Jeff Cunningham. While Chiumiento isn't at Donovan's skill level he has a similar skill set, combining an ability to outplay anybody with the ball at his feet with a nice shot and good instincts. He's quick, too: against Montreal he was more than capable of running with Randy Edwini-Bonsu, which is a bloody difficult thing to do. It's no stretch to believe that Chiumiento can physically stand up to MLS defenders.
Moreover, his ability to take a free kick gives the Whitecaps a valuable second leg to go with Martin Nash. With Chiumiento's speed compared to Nash's relative lack of mobility it may behoove Teitur Thordarson to have Nash continue to take most of the free kicks, but another option to go with your 34-year-old central midfielder is always a good thing. As I joked last week Thordarson may have trouble fitting Chiumiento into his formation, as Chiumiento has primarily played a central attacking midfield role that Thordarson hasn't used in Vancouver. But, as a right fielder replacing Philippe Davies in the Impact game, there was certainly nothing wrong with Chiumiento's performance and he handled the position confidently without roaming out of place in search of goals the way some attacking midfielders do. If Chiumiento can settle comfortably onto the flank, it'll make Thordarson's job that much easier.
Having said that, I think Chiumiento would be much better as a number ten. With his set of skills he seems born to be a trequartista in the Italian mold at the MLS level, and putting a classical goal poacher with him would allow the Whitecaps to pick up goals while making the best use of their strong midfield: Nash, Davies, and Terry Dunfield are all first-rate passers and Chiumiento as a second forward would let them use their skills to the best advantage.
This early on, of course, Thordarson is still going to be trying out Chiumiento in all sorts of situations. And in this advanced state of the season it makes sense that he'd try to have Chiumiento adapt to his formation than have the formation adapt to Chiumiento: the longer-serving Whitecaps don't need yet another novelty to adapt to in their lives. But in the long run the key to getting the most out of Chiumiento will be for Thordarson to ditch his old tactics and find the best possible use for his new, unusually skilled Swiss star in the making.