Injuries and unproven youngsters in defense leaves Impact coach Frank Klopas with questions to answer before the new season kicks off in March.
Klopas, however, has wasted no time in working on implementing his tactical ideas. As opposed to his predecessor Marco Schällibaum, who waited a few weeks before addressing tactical concerns in his preseason camp, Klopas had the Impact doing tactical work right from the very first week of training, with a special emphasis on defensive organization.
One of the biggest concerns for Klopas in this camp is who exactly will start at the back when the new season kicks off on March 8 and judging by the way he’s shuffled the players around in the Impact’s last preseason game against Fluminese on Thursday, he still has some figuring out to do.
Of course, Klopas’ job isn’t made any easier by the fact that he has important injury issues to contend with. Adrian Lopez won’t be returning from his ACL injury until the end of March or April, and Jeb Brovsky will miss the new few weeks with a knee injury of his own. Furthermore, Nelson Rivas (surprise, surprise) sustained a hamstring injury in the Impact’s first preseason game against Orlando City and when he will be able to return is anyone's guess.
The good news for Klopas is that academy product Wandrille Lefèvre, who has been very eager to impress in this camp, has looked very solid so far, making a strong case to get the start in central defense alongside veteran defender Matteo Ferrari come start of the season. Physically, Lefèvre is imposing and he’s also quite mobile, but what’s most impressive about him is his confidence and ability to play balls out of defense. He showed some good examples of that against Fluminese, especially with his pinpoint accurate long ball for Hassoun Camara in the first half which eventually led to Sanna Nyassi scoring the only goal of the game.
Lefevre might very well keep Camara at fullback, despite the Frenchman’s wish to return to his more preferred position in central defense. With Brovsky out injured, Camara might not have much of a choice, but even if he does eventually return to center back, given Lefevre’s quick progression, Camara could see himself fall down the pecking order.
While the plan for this season was to move Brovsky from left fullback to right fullback and then move Camara into central defense, it does leave a gap for the Impact on the left. Draft pick Eric Miller slotted in at left fullback against Fluminese, but it was a bit awkward for him given he’s naturally a right-footed player. The only other option is Maxim Tissot, though he’s probably not ready to be a starter.
The Impact’s lack of options at left fullback explains why defender Heath Pearce is now on trial with the team in Orlando. Pearce, 30, is a former U.S. International and has lots of experience in MLS. He was once considered one of the best defenders in the league.
Pearce is also versatile; he can play in any position on the backline and that makes him attractive to the Impact.
But his best days are probably behind him. He’s been on the decline the last two seasons and the New York Red Bulls let him go this winter after he underwent hip surgery which kept him out for half of last year.
He’ll also likely be expensive. Last season, his salary was in excess of $300,000.
It leaves the Impact with a difficult choice to make.
“He looks fine, 100 percent,” assistant coach Mauro Biello told MLSSoccer.com on Thursday. “We hope that he’ll find some form with a few training sessions, and we’ll see how he does in a game situation.”
“If he shows us certain things, it could help us in terms of experience and stability at the back.”
Between injuries and unproven youngsters, stability is really what the Impact are lacking in defense going into this season and Pearce might just be one risk too many at this point.
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