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The Curious Case of Vancouver Whitecaps Nicolas Mezquida

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The numbers say that the Vancouver Whitecaps are a far better team with Nicolas Mezquida on the field, playing in the #10 role. Despite those numbers, Mezquida has not been a regular starter. This begs the question: Why is Nico not starting more?

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Nicolas Mezquida joined the Vancouver Whitecaps on February 5th, 2014. While many thought that Mezquida was on loan from second division Uruguayan club Boston River, like his country mate Sebastian Fernandez, Mezquida was actually a transfer. Having just turned 22, Nicolas Mezquida was played sparingly in the 2014 season, registering only 418 minutes over 14 appearances (4 starts). Needless to say his contributions were fairly underwhelming and Nico was probably seen by many as nothing more than a depth option; at least that was my feeling after his first season.

With the presence of Pedro Morales, Nicolas Mezquida was seen as the backup playmaking midfielder. Initially filling in for an injured Morales in 2015, the importance of Mezquida to the success of the Whitecaps began to become apparent. When Mezquida was operating behind the striker, the Vancouver Whitecaps appeared more dynamic and seemed to threaten more. In addition, the team appeared to be better defensively as Mezquida was great at the high-press and forcing turnovers. However, did the numbers back up that visual? It turns out they did.

During the 2015 MLS season, Nicolas Mezquida appeared in 18 matches, starting 12 times. In the 16 matches Nico did not play in, the Vancouver Whitecaps had 5 wins, 9 losses, and 2 draws with 15 goals for and 18 goals against. In the 12 matches Nico started, the Whitecaps had 8 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws, with 25 goals for and 11 goals against. For completeness, in the 6 matches he was subbed on, the Caps had a record of 3-2-1.

It became apparent to many who watched the Whitecaps during the 2015 season that the team was far more successful with Nico Mezquida driving the ship. Moreover, there was belief that the Whitecaps did not need to play with 2 defensive midfielders as Matias Laba was more than capable of holding down the fort himself. As a result, I was of the opinion that Morales should play alongside Laba with Mezquida playing further up the pitch. This seemed like a great idea as Morales typically played deep to receive the ball but then had few options ahead of him. Playing alongside Laba would allow him to continue receiving the ball early but then give him the option of playing one of his perfect long passes to a streaking winger, or playing up the middle with Mezquida and allowing Nico to make the precision short pass into the box, while following up for any rebounds.

The hopes of a Morales/Mezquida combo to start the 2016 season was not to be though as Mezquida apparently started the season injured. Curiously, several games into the season I made a comment on Twitter asking Nico when he would be healthy again. His reply? He was already healthy and ready to go. Hmmm.

Similar to 2015, success for the Whitecaps in 2016 has been correlated with Nico Mezquida sightings. In the 6 games Nico did not play, the Caps were 2-3-1 with 10 goals for and 14 against. In the 8 games started, the Caps were 4-3-1 with 13 goals for and 10 against. About the same record, but certainly a much better goal differential.

Despite the clear positive correlation with the Whitecaps success and starting Nicolas Mezquida it appears that manager Carl Robinson has been reluctant to start the 24-year-old. I am confused as to the reasoning behind that decision. In most games Nico has started this season, he has been removed around the 60-70th minute, so maybe it is a conditioning issue. However, we know that Carl Robinson emphasizes work ethic in training so maybe he is seeing something from Nico in training that gives him pause.

While the last second loss to Toronto FC on Wednesday was heartbreaking, a key bright spot for the Whitecaps, yet again, was Nicolas Mezquida. A halftime substitute, Nico completely changed the game, after a very poor first half from the Caps. Within 2 minutes Nico had scored to give the Caps hope for a victory. For many, including myself, the insertion of Nico into the lineup came 45 minutes later than it should have.

Many seem to believe that Carl Robinson has a great defensive mind, and I am not going to question that opinion. However, one area where he has shown a lack of knowledge has been going forward. It could be argued that most of the players Robbo has brought in on defense have been successful while those on offense have been unsuccessful; Rivero being the latest. If the lack of minutes of Nico Mezquida is for anything less than attitude or off-field behavior, it is my belief that someone has to give Robbo’s head a shake and ask him what he is doing, because the numbers show that the Whitecaps are better with Nicolas Mezquida on the field and running the show. Equally important, the product is far more entertaining for those watching.

What are your thoughts on Nicolas Mezquida?