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Season review: Juan Diego Gonzalez

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player. You can read all the reviews here.

Juan Diego Gonzalez signed with Philadelphia Union on Aug. 5, ostensibly to bolster a back line having serious problems. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup as the left center back, pushing Cristian Arrieta to the bench and keeping Michael Orozco Fiscal out at right back.

Gonzalez had spent his entire career in Latin America so was an unknown quantity to most U.S. soccer fans, but the 30-year-old played well enough to quickly show the quality to start in Major League Soccer. He takes good positions, closes space well, and generally seems to have a good head for the game. Had he not gotten injured, he surely would not have surrendered his starting position, but he did get hurt, clearing the way for Orozco to reclaim a spot in the center.

In the end, Gonzalez played only 7 games, but he went the full 90 in each and played well in most. The Union protected him in the expansion draft, but that doesn’t mean he’s here for the long term.

High Point

Signing with the Union and slotting in as an immediate starter the following week against Dallas.

Low Point

The injury that knocked Gonzalez out of the lineup and gave Orozco a chance to play center back again. Orozco didn’t blow the chance and played so well that he clearly reclaimed the starting job, leaving Gonzalez on the outside looking in.

2010 statistics

7 games (7 starts), 630 minutes, 7 fouls caused, 4 fouls suffered

Strengths

Gonzalez is good in the air and seems to take good positions along the back line. He’s strong and plays bigger than he actually is. He’s also a smart, safe passer out of the back, favoring his left foot.

Weaknesses

Gonzalez can get flustered and lose his cool. He had a really bizarre moment late in the loss to D.C. United where he seemed to briefly have a complete mental shutdown. After he cracked heads with Brian Ching against Houston, he seemed to completely lose focus on the game, as well as his temper.

Outlook

You don’t pay a guy $180,000 to be a backup center back in MLS because that’s about 1/13 of a team’s salary budget for a player who won’t play much. If they do keep him, the Union will have 25 percent of their salary devoted to their three center backs, and that’s too much. Backup center backs don’t get a ton of time in MLS, barring injuries to starters. With the Union not taking part in CONCACAF Champions League or SuperLiga, Gonzalez is only likely to play in the U.S. Open Cup, occasional midweek games, or if a starting defender gets hurt. That said, if any one of the starting four defenders go down, Gonzalez is likely to be first choice. If fullbacks Sheanon Williams or Jordan Harvey get hurt, Orozco can slide out to fullback, where he’s less effective but certainly adequate, and Gonzalez can fill Orozco’s spot in the center.

Chances are Gonzalez will move on in the near future. He’s clearly starter quality and has trade value, but Orozco’s late season play showed that Union management gave up too quickly on him as a starting center back. Look for the Union to either trade Gonzalez before the amateur draft or keep him around just long enough for Orozco to show that his terrific late season play wasn’t just a fleeting phase. (It wasn’t, but it probably doesn’t hurt to make sure, if you can afford it.) Gonzalez will have value around the league, but as an international player who so recently signed with Philadelphia, he may not want to move on so quickly. On the other hand, he’s unlikely to want to be a backup in Philadelphia, unless the paycheck is that much better than what he was getting in Colombia (which is entirely possible). But keeping a pricey backup center back doesn’t make sense for a team with clear needs in other areas.

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)

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