Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clyde Simms versus Julius James

I started writing this as a reply to the comments in the last match reaction, but I figured this discussion worthy of its own posting, and what better format to use than my infamous Versus feature.

The theory here is that one of these two players will be starting next to Dejan Jakovic when the Canadian returns from hernia surgery. The team has apparently fully abandoned the 3-5-2 formation, as they rightfully should have, and our regular center back pairing in Jakovic's absense has been Simms and James. So which one should start next to Jakovic for the final few weeks of the season (and maybe the playoffs??)? Let's look at what each one brings to the table:

Clyde Simms has been one of our most consistent players over the past three years, and brings a much higher soccer IQ to the backline than does James. He may not be the same physical specimen as James, but he should bring better positional sense, while still having the speed and strength to keep up with the better attackers in the league. My initial concern with using Simms at CB is that we lose his ball-winning ability at CDM, but that doesn't seem to be as big a concern anymore since Rodney Wallace has really stepped up to fill that role while Simms has been playing deeper back. So the argument against Simms then is Fullback's point that with Simms and Jakovic you have two players who like getting forward into the midfield too much to close down attackers early. My rebuttal is that with Simms and Jakovic, we have two intelligent and experienced players who should know when to go forward and when to stay home. I feel like when one of them moves forward, the other will always be smart enough to stay home.

Julius James is probably one of the two or three most physically gifted players on the team. He's faster than Simms, he's bigger and taller than Simms. James definitely has potential, as Fullback pointed out. But the time to get him more seasoned is not the final 4 games of the season. I'm all for bringing James back in 2010 and letting him compete for a starting job at that point, but for the remainder of this season, I want the two best players RIGHT NOW playing this spot. One of United's biggest problems in 2007 and 2008 was that they suffered from mental errors. Whether our backline was McTavish-Boswell or Peralta-Janicki, we had a tendency to play well for about 88 minutes of a match, but give up a goal or two thanks to some isolated mistakes. We've already seen the same thing happen with Julius James starting.

I'm not saying that Clyde Simms should be starting at central defense long term. He's just too good a defensive midfielder to permanently convert. But for the remainder of the 2009 season, I'm all for starting our best 11 players. And I don't think James is in that best 11 right now. My best 11 looks like this:

Yeah I've still got Emilio at top. That might be an argument for another day ;)


The AMT said...

I think I'm leaning towards the James-as-CB. I think having Simms at DM allows us to move Wallace to LM, which allows us to put Pontius up top, which at this second (I'm vacillating here) I think may be the best option (especially if Tino is also in the XI).

I like Wallace out on the wing because of his speed, and because he makes mistakes and giveaways when he's in the middle that Simms doesn't make. Or at least, he makes more of them than Simms.

Emilio, sadly, looks like he needs to join his countryman on the Brazilian pine. He's lost *it* - even more than Moreno or Gomez. United (and Gomez, somehow) are actually seeming to utilize the wings. That means crosses into the box, and an aerial presence is usually a good thing in those situations. Emilio is a lot of things, but even at his best, he's generally not an aerial presence - Pontius can be.

All this said, when it comes to in-game changes, the manager's got to do what he's got to do.

Chest Rockwell said...

No hesitation: James. I'd even go with McTavish or Burch over Simms, and I don't like either there.

First, Simms may be the smarter player but his play as a center back has been more or less what you'd expect out of a guy that is clearly out of position. Even smart players, played in an unfamiliar role, have moments where they don't know what to do. Simms has had these; for example, Seattle's opening goal never happens if Simms is in position. Vagenas looked up, saw the opening, had to know that Zakuani would win a footrace with anyone we have, and just played a hopeful ball through the gap. Namoff should have had someone to channel Zakuani towards. Instead, he had no one within 40 yards to help him out. Simms, meanwhile, was upfield trying to be a midfielder. This was just the most glaring example. His positional sense overall is strong, but that sense as a center back is probably no better than that of James. His only advantages over James are communication and safety with the ball. That doesn't make up for the fact that he'd be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

You also have to factor in what we lose with out Simms in midfield. Wallace has done better than I'd expect as a ballwinner, but he still turns the ball over too often and can be dragged out of position by the smarter teams that take advantage of his enthusiasm. There's such a thing as too much running, and Wallace has been guilty of it several times in central midfield. Plus, "better than expected" does not mean he's an all star there at this point. We can win games with him there, but we have a better chance with Simms. I also agree with The AMT that having Wallace wide gives us the chance to put Pontius up top. I still say that Pontius should be a guaranteed starter up front for us, so pushing him back, Wallace central, and Simms back is just not something I'd rather do unless we're desperate. Right now, we're desperate because Jakovic is out, but when he returns we should push Simms back where he belongs.

James clearly has his flaws, but it is not a coincidence that his best game in a United shirt, by far, was in Chicago alongside Jakovic. They haven't played together since, and James suffers when he's the most natural center back of the pair (Simms and McTavish have been his other partners). In that game, Jakovic and James showed a decent understanding, while Simms (confident in the guys behind him) had a tour de force. Honestly, his play in the first half specifically might have been the best 45 minutes by anyone for us this year, including Moreno beating FC Dallas at home virtually by himself.

My lineup for a fully-fit DCU:

------------- Moreno - Pontius
Wallace - Olsen - Simms - Quaranta
Burch --- James --- Jakovic --- Namoff
------------------- Wicks

Moreno could be replaced by Gomez. Emilio is, at this point, a sub for a central midfielder or defender if we need goals.

Fullback said...

Damn. I was going to let fire with a pretty hefty reaction in favor of James, but I see Chest has done the job for me (in spades!). In fact, Chest seems to be so far inside my head that it's freaking me out.

The one point I'd reinforce is the experience factor you quoted. Sure, Simms is an MLS veteran, but, as Chest rightly pointed out, he's a veteran midfielder, with a midfielder's instincts. That actually works against him as a center back.

And Jakovic? One season with United and a handful of games for Red Star and the Canadian national team makes him a veteran? By that logic, James' multiple MLS seasons and handful of appearances for the T&T national team makes him a veteran as well.

Jakovic and James are young and complement each other well. Toss them in the pressure cooker of a do-or-die playoff battle and let them sink or swim. If they sink, you've got some off-season shopping to plan. If they swim, you can shift focus to the other huge problem--pace and energy in attack.

'Sean' said...

Great post and great conversation.

And even though I'm not a DCU diehard ... I'd agree with the comments. James certainly looks the part; I think he just isn't comfortable without a partner who's nominally in charge.

I'm picturing Jakovic maturing into a classic libero; it's possible I'm just fooling myself, though, as I'd love to see it maybe too much.

Fullback said...

Right on, Sean. You're reading my mind.