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Whitecaps Season Review 2014: Defensive Midfield

Eighty Six Forever's season review series continues with a judgement of the defensive midfield's endeavours this year, from Matías Laba to Mehdi Ballouchy.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Eighty Six Forever are complying a comprehensive review of the Vancouver Whitecaps season and as a part of that I am delighted to evaluate the performance of the defensive midfield this year. Matías Laba, Russell Teibert, Gershon Koffie and even Mehdi Ballouchy will be analyzed under the spotlight as they have so impressively become the well-oiled engine room to Carl Robinson’s line-up. Agree, disagree or have something to add? Be sure to carry this discussion on in the comments section below and check out the assessments of the other areas in the roster as we patiently wait for what promises to be an absorbing 2015 campaign. Statistics obtained from WhoScored and Squawka.

Matías Laba

Laba was discarded by Toronto FC after their widely documented, now ridiculed, offseason yielded three new designated players in the form of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto Oliveira Souza Junior. This meant that there was no room for the 22-year-old, as a young DP, and the Caps were more than happy to take him off their hands in February. Since then we have witnessed Laba blossom into one of the most consistent performers in the team and one of the elite holding midfielders in the league, and received further evidence that our friends in Ontario have no idea what they’re doing with transfer dealings.

Statistically speaking, no player completed more tackles than his 148 and no midfielder made more interceptions than his 92. In addition to that, the Argentine’s 12 interceptions in the knockout playoff match with FC Dallas were not matched by any player in MLS, only one example of how he has stepped up in the bigger games on the schedule. Moreover, the former Argentinos Juniors man played an integral part in transitional play and his metronomic circulation of possession has served an invaluable purpose in that regard, with 85% of his passes meeting their intended target. Laba received the Jock MacDonald Unsung Hero award for his efforts and, though he ultimately fell short to the equally magnificent Pedro Morales in the Player of the Year voting, there is no doubting in my eyes who the most valuable player has been. I am also of the belief that his play warrants further acknowledgment in the form of a place in the MLS XI.

Russell Teibert

Teibert is one of many who have come on leaps and bounds under Carl Robinson, developing his talent and maturing as an individual as he has adapted to a new role with new responsibilities this year. Where to harness the best of the 21-year-old’s quality has been an ongoing experiment for the coaching staff, initially deploying him on the flanks in the 4-2-3-1 system before using him wide, with the license to drift inwards, in the 4-4-2 diamond. It would be fair to suggest that his most impressive form came as a result of Gershon Koffie’s ankle injury in August though, allowing him to fill the void alongside Matías Laba in front of the back-line. He instilled a sense of composure regularly in that position, helping to share the workload afforded to Laba while also posing a threat in build-up play.

Like his midfield partner-in-crime, efficient passing has been a hallmark to his game and his 86.1% completion rate is higher than any Cap to have made ten or more appearances. As a part of his development, the Niagara Falls native has taken on a status within the locker room with added emphasis on leadership and, as vice-captain, has donned the armband whenever skipper Pedro Morales has been absent. It appears that his reported attitude problems are now a thing of the past, his return to the Canadian national team is testament to that, and for everyone involved with both club and country this can only serve as tremendous encouragement.

Gershon Koffie

Koffie’s displays over the first five months of the regular season have unfairly gone understated by many amid Teibert’s emergence in his place. Although it took some time for him to cement his inclusion in the line-up, he went from strength to strength with every appearance thereafter, and had it not been for Russell’s breakthrough I’m not convinced that Vancouver would have made the postseason with the 23-year-old on the sidelines. His skill-set is very much complimentary of Laba’s and it’s for that reason why their partnership has garnered so much success, the effervescent Ghanaian is granted more freedom to play in his preferred box-to-box role with the insurance Matías guarantees behind him.

A major sign of his improvement has been his awareness with regards to positioning, which, when coupled with his newfound consistency, has left the side far less vulnerable defensively and far more potent in the final third. If Koffie is to reach the next level I believe he needs to hit the back of the net on a more frequent basis and that has to be his personal priority as he prepares in the offseason. He was nothing but effective as an offensive asset this campaign, yet could have demanded more direct contribution in order to better his 0.9 shots per game average and, ergo, his solitary goal. I think he, his coach and the supporters should be delighted with his year and look forward with high anticipation to his potential being fulfilled in the near future.

Mehdi Ballouchy

Ballouchy’s 2014 has gone under the radar, yet probably warrants more praise than it is getting at the moment. Many seem to have forgotten that he suffered two ACL tears in the same knee in less than a year, the first sustained in October 2012 and the second in August 2013, and was then left with the uncertainty of the re-entry draft and the prospect of his fifth MLS club. It could be argued that a lesser man would have quit at that point, either by leaving the league or even retiring altogether, and it’s credit to his character that he came back.

He only played 310 minutes, but that’s more than he achieved in any of his three years with the San Jose Earthquakes, and that should be celebrated. One would suspect that Ballouchy will be left exposed for the forthcoming expansion draft, however he boasts the mental strength desirable for any team, whether it be Vancouver, New York City FC or Orlando City.

I, for one, wish him all the best and implore that you do too – it’s been a pleasure to have him in British Columbia.

Tuesday, AtlantisB gives us his review of the attacking midfield.