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The Weakness of Davide Chiumiento

Most pictures of Davide Chiumiento seem to involve him falling over.
Most pictures of Davide Chiumiento seem to involve him falling over.

I like Davide Chiumiento, but that doesn't mean he can't drive me insane.

His abilities are obvious. I'm being serious when I say this: I'm not sure there's a more talented maestro over the ball in Major League Soccer. Watching him dribble is like getting a little glimpse of the finest European leagues in a bite-sized package. No wonder they called him the Swiss Ronaldinho and gave him a shot in Serie A. The guy clearly has all the talent in the world.

He's also quite a good playmaker. Not dazzling; he doesn't sling long crosses through the tightest of spaces straight to a forward's forehead. I can only remember him really playing one lovely through ball (though that ball, a fantastic pass to Camilo for our only goal in Houston, was really lovely). Mostly, he succeeds by making a bunch of moves, getting into a less exposed position, and then passing the ball off to somebody who the defenders have forgotten about. It works, and Chiumiento has piled up an entire legion of assists. No complaints there.

Yet Dede leaves me faintly unsatisfied. For all his ability, and his reasonable athleticism, and his generally good work rate, he doesn't seem to be reaching the heights of which he's capable. It's easy to say that of skilled players, of course, and yet in very specific ways Chiumiento doesn't seem to quite be getting there. Maybe it's just a matter of adjustment, or maybe Chiumiento isn't quite comfortable with his role yet. Either way, he's not quite there. We're not getting the full value we could from the most talented player on our team, and that's a problem.

Not all of Davide Chiumiento's limitations are things he can fix. He can't make himself any taller and he can't make himself any quicker. Slow and small is a troublesome combination in Major League Soccer, where big defenders are always happy to make a name for themselves by taking out the skilled guy on the other team. Chiumiento's had problems with fitness and injury, too, famously arriving midway through the 2010 season and having such a hard time getting into shape that he had more than a cameo with the team in its playoff run.

The bright side, of course, is that Chiumiento should draw lots of fouls. But he's ruining that by getting a reputation as a diver. Major League Soccer referees hate divers; it's one of the very few things I like about them. They tend, I find, to give the benefit of the doubt to the tackler rather than the tackled with the caveat that they hand out far more cards when offended by a bad challenge. Camilo is finding that out, so is Chiumiento. Just scroll down a couple of posts and take a look at Chiumiento trying to sell that "foul" by Kevin Hatchi, or at Chiumiento's expression of "oh-god-I've-been-shot" as he drags his foot over the leg of a challenger from the Columbus Crew. And already it's hurting him on the field, with genuine fouls against Chiumiento whistled less and less often unless they're truly flagrant. That's not the way it works in every league, but it's the way it works in this one. If Dede is going to dive, he had damned well better pick the right time to do it. Get us a penalty, don't get us a free kick from sixty yards out.

And that's not even what's agitating me most about Chiumiento. For a guy with such skill, his offensive instincts seem surprisingly depressed. Is that why he didn't wind up sticking in Italy? He'll dance through everybody, making an entire Major League Soccer defense look like a bunch of morons, then wind up off on the corner of the box surrounded by four guys with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It's like he realizes he'll need some tricky footwork to get past a defender but doesn't think one step beyond that, to what he'll do after he gets past that defender. He keeps playing himself deeper and deeper into a hole.

Again, because this is Major League Soccer, this usually works. Defenders chase Chiumiento, he winds up with nowhere to go but realizes that if he can get a pass through there are two or three Whitecaps open, and we get a scoring chance. It's hysterical, but it's also a joy to watch. I love Chiumiento's talent and wouldn't take him out of this lineup for love or money. It's just frustrating to think of what we could get out of him.

Suppose, for example, that Chiumiento started to show some more aggression. He'd decide that he's going for goal, run through a few guys, but keep his face towards the goal, keep going forward, and try to get a shot off. Chiumiento hasn't got a lot of power but with his moves he should be able to get into a great position. Or he could work into the box while a forward familiar with his style, like Eric Hassli or Omar Salgado, just tries to get open so he can get on the end of a short pass. Chiumiento needs to give himself more options for offense.

This is all mental stuff. I don't doubt that, if Davide applies himself, he can start to get most of this down. It's no secret that finesse-first offensive players can have trouble adjusting to Major League Soccer and I actually think Chiumiento's done better than most. But, evne as I delight in his performances, I'm still frustrated sometimes that he isn't getting more.