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Season Review: Andrew Jacobson

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

Jacobson was no stranger to the ground this season. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Early in the Union’s inaugural season, Andrew Jacobson’s campaign took a strange turn.

Following a string of starts in the first six league matches, Jacobson took a seat and had to endure a period of brief, late-game cameos. In these short appearances, the energy that the 25 year-old, University of California-Berkeley product brought to an often static Union side was palpable. In addition to hard-chasing and quick distribution, Andrew Jacobson “the substitute” also revealed an unexpected ability to launch cannon blasts from long distance.

After winning a host of honors during his four years at Call– PAC-10 player of the year, all-conference for three years, and NSCAA First Team All-American in his senior year — Jacobson turned down MLS in search of European soccer. When injuries prevented him securing any first-team action with French Ligue 1 side Lorient, Jacobson returned to MLS and was allocated to DC United, the team that originally drafted him with the 24th pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. His rookie year in MLS saw him earn 28 appearances in all competitions, and despite showing progress as a holding midfielder, Jacobson was left unprotected in the 2009 expansion draft.

In his time in Philadelphia, Andrew Jacobson has been a clear favorite of Peter Nowak, earning him well-deserved playing time despite the Union’s crowded midfield, which brings us back to those substitute appearances. Given the Union’s depth at the holding midfield position and their relative weakness in the creative, attacking category, the majority of Jacobson’s season became a frustrating “square peg, round hole” scenario. Often being asked to play out of position as a central attacking midfielder or pressed into service as a winger, his defensive range and ball-winning abilities were squandered. Union fans winced each time he bumped into Sebastian Le Toux or Danny Mwanga, clogging up potential goal-scoring movements and looking lost in the attacking third.

2010 statistics

25 games (13 starts). 1,294 minutes played. 0 goals, 0 assists, 18 shots (8 on goal). 29 fouls caused, 14 fouls suffered. 3 yellow cards.

High point

Any time he was allowed to play his natural position. With left tackles in football, middle relievers in baseball and goaltenders in hockey, the less news they’re making, the better they’re probably playing. The same goes for holding midfielders. When afforded an opportunity to roam the middle of the pitch, Jacobson has the confidence to make plays, control possession and limit opponent’s chances.

Low point

Any time he was played out of position. While it’s important to challenge players and test their limits, it’s also unwise to move them around with such frequency that they cannot take ownership of their role within a team. When asked to play as a wing, Jacobson was too prone to carry play back to the center of the pitch, resulting in the clogged central midfield and the lack of width that was lamented all season. As an attacking midfielder, he simply lacked the chemistry with the forwards around him that would have seen him succeed. Sometimes a player occupies a specific position for a reason, because it’s THEIR position. Allowing Jacobson to play his position will allow the coaches and fans to see where his upside lies and how much he can contribute to the team.

Strengths

Standing an impressive 6-2, Jacobson cuts an imposing figure while still having tremendous athleticism. With his long rangy strides, he covers enormous amounts of ground and tracks back deep into the defensive third to offer cover when called upon.  On a team that wants to attack, a hard-tackling ball winner is essential to secure possession and limit opposition opportunities. Jacobson plays with the desire to be that player for the Union. Aside from breaking up passes in the middle of the park, his height provides additional aerial coverage for the backline, which has added importance given that Danny Califf is the only likely defensive starter for next season who stands over six feet.

When he’s on his game, Jacobson possesses the quality of vision and desire to play quickly that will serve the Union well. True, there were moments when his lack of polish was apparent and he gave the ball away cheaply. But the ambition he shows in his distribution should be encouraged, not lamented. As he continues to adjust to the speed of play and the players around him, his service from a deep lying position will prove invaluable. Sooner than later, he will latch onto one of his enormous drives, and it will find the back of the net.

Weaknesses

Simply put, he’s still raw. While a year of experience behind a seasoned veteran like Stefani Miglioranzi will have done him some good in learning his trade from an academic standpoint, Jacobson needs to work out his kinks on the pitch. Too many times he would track back hard to win an important challenge only to turn around and immediately concede possession. On a team where fans and critics focus on the youth and inexperience of players like Danny Mwanga, Roger Torres, Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo, it’s easy to forget the Jacobson was only in his second year in MLS. Generally, holding midfield is thought of as an older, veteran position, one that takes time and experience to master. Unlike strikers and wing players who attack and react with aggression and guile, a holding player must link offense and defense and read the entire shape of a match to determine the necessary moments to intervene both in attack and defense. This is one of Miglioranzi’s great assets, and as Jacobson matures and improves his focus, his athletic upside should take those traits and expand upon them with improved speed, range and distribution.

Outlook

Jacobson goes airborne. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Despite sliding in and out of the starting line-up, moving from inside to outside, forward to back, all within the midfield, Jacobson has proved that he can contribute at this level. Considering how Peter Nowak continued to turn to him throughout the year to provide an energetic spark, it seems likely that he will be on the list of protected players when the MLS SuperDraft rolls around. With the potential that neither Miglioranzi nor Eduardo Coudet will be returning next season, Jacobson should be seen as a front-runner to claim a place in the starting XI.

Still, the question remains: How will he be used? With the addition of Sheanon Williams and the overall desire to push the outside backs forward and use the flanks to attack, Jacobson seems a prime candidate to occupy a deep holding role within the Union midfield. Despite his large number of appearance, he has had frustratingly few opportunities as the season wore on to assert himself in the position that best suits him. Will Nowak look at his projected veteran starters like Danny Califf, Sebastian Le Toux and Justin Mapp and see enough leadership to allow a player like Jacobson to get a starting job, even if he encounters a rough spell? Or will another panic signing, like Coudet, deprive him of the opportunity to mature into the player that he clearly has the ability to become?

That is the big question.

(Cover photo: Paul Rudderow)

7 Comments

  1. I had no idea Jacobson was so tall. You’re spot-on about Jacobson with the giveaways. It will be a huge step when he is able to break up plays and effectively start the offensive rush.

  2. Every time he gets on the field he gets a little closer to burning a hole in the net with that cannon. When he eventually does sink that shot I have no doubt it will be the greatest individual effort goal I have ever witnessed. Love him, maybe even more than Okugo, as our future DM. As much as I love Migz I have to say the thought of Okugo/Jacobson instead of Migz/Jacobson is something I really want to see next year.

  3. I’ve always had a bit of a man-crush on AJ8, but was hesitant to express how much I enjoyed watching him play. His physical stature, coupled with his hustle, makes him an intimidating presence on the field. I didn’t think anyone else actually saw the potential he holds. Glad to read that I’m not alone. 😉 Most of the talk seems to be focused on Okugo being the future in the d-mid position for the U, but I think the baton will be passed to Andrew if he’s with the team when Migz and/or Coudet move on.

    • Oh, and when Sir Alex singles him out during the postgame Union/Man Utd friendly interviews, you know AJ8 must have the skillset to be one of the best.

    • Totally agree. I consider Jacobson to be the most underrated player on the Union. Everyone likes Okugo for “the future.” I like Jacobson for 2011.

      • As a well-documented fan of Okugo I am hoping for the Union to adapt a 4-5-1 with AJ8(hadn’t heard that one before, but i like it) and Okugo prowling the midfield, destroying all who enter.

  4. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Time for Nowak to show his managerial worth

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