An injury robbed Nick DeLeon of a huge chunk of the 2017, forcing the former first round MLS SuperDraft pick to appear in the fewest games of the year. But when he was available, DeLeon started in 18 of 20 games, coming off the bench just once, and sitting out just one game - late in the season against Columbus Crew SC. It seems though, D.C. United manager Ben Olsen doesn’t have a set position for DeLeon, which helps and hurts DeLeon on the field.
Ever since DeLeon had broke into the league back in 2012, narrowly missing out on the Rookie of the Year award, while contributing six goals and four assists, DeLeon had preferred as a wide midfielder. However, with production declining, and the arrival before the 2016 season of other wide midfielders, Lamar Neagle and Patrick Nyarko, Olsen shifted DeLeon to the center of the midfield.
That project never really worked out though, and by the end of the 2016 campaign, DeLeon was playing right back, filling in for the injured Sean Franklin, and generally doing well out wide once again, minus the playoff loss against the Montreal Impact.
Olsen tried to experiment once again this offseason, attempting to move Franklin to center back to partner with Steve Birnbaum. That opened up a spot at right back, and DeLeon was the starter there from the beginning of the season, beating out rookie Chris Odoi-Atsem for playing time.
Yet, in the loss to the New York Red Bulls in April, when DeLeon was removed just after halftime, for what then was described as a groin injury, DeLeon started as a wide midfielder. Then, the injury turned into a bit more than expected - as DeLeon had to have double hernia surgery, sapping him of 14 games during the middle of the season.
Once DeLeon returned in July, he played in every game sans one to finish out the season. However, by that point, United’s playoff hopes were dashed, and DeLeon bounced around from position to position, as Olsen used the former Louisville Cardinal as needed in various spots on the field. Most of his time was spent at right back or left back, but the game against the Colorado Rapids in August showed just how much Olsen was willing to move DeLeon around the field.
DeLeon started off as left back, but at various points during the second half, played as a wide midfielder, a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder, and a forward. Olsen was trying whatever possible to hold on to a 1-0 lead with a short bench, and DeLeon was the most expendable in terms of where he could play on the field.
This season, both Olsen and DeLeon have talked about the various positions he has played at. DeLeon will always talk about the positives of his versatility - that being able to play different positions means that there is always room for him on the field. He’s not so worried about where he plays, just as long as he can get on the field. Meanwhile, Olsen has pointed out the negatives of DeLeon’s versatility (while still having positives words about the DeLeon) - in that it’s hard for DeLeon to nail down one position if he’s constantly moved around the field.
With the departure of Bill Hamid this offseason, DeLeon is now the longest consecutive tenured player with United (shoutout to Chris Korb, who while out on contract with United from December to May, initially joined the club in 2011, a year before DeLeon). But all the positional changes have taken a significant bite out of DeLeon’s on the field. After registering 12 goals and 15 assists in his first four years, DeLeon has just one goal and zero assists in the past two seasons.
DeLeon just turned 27 this year, so it figures that he’s likely in the prime of his career now. He might be without a position to call his own, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t contribute on the field for the Black-and-Red.
As always, the all important question:
Do you want Nick DeLeon back for the 2018 season?
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