Philadelphia Union II

James Chambers: Elder statesman

Photo courtesy USLsoccer.com

James Chambers is the only elder statesman returning from Bethlehem Steel’s inaugural 2016 roster.

The Irish central channel midfielder was re-signed by Bethlehem Steel on Dec. 5 to a new multi-year contract.

He will turn 30 on Feb. 14.  He will be four years older than the next most senior member of the current Steel roster.

Last season

Chambers started 23 times in 2016, along with four more substitute appearances, for a total of 2,134 minutes. In those appearances, he had 44 shots with 16 on frame and 3 goals.

Chambers was signed by the Steel to provide leadership and quality to the embryonic 2016 side. He did exactly that as he adapted his Irish game to that played by North America’s United Soccer League. He played interchangeably among all three central midfield positions: defensive center mid, center mid, and attacking center mid. Early in the season he led the entire league in yellow cards, and then stopped getting them. He plays with excellent self-awareness and self-discipline.

Several strengths

His technical skills are complete and excellent. Chambers’ anticipatory positioning is also excellent both offensively and defensively. His competitive intensity is relentless. Coach Brendan Burke reports that Chambers’ mentoring is good.

The Irishman’s work-rate is utterly intense from the first minute to the last. He refuses to acknowledge lost causes and chastises those who do. He is a very good free-kick taker, tackler, ball-winner, and distributor.

One weakness

Chambers’ weakness is pace. This weakness means that when possession is lost unexpectedly he will be slow to arrive when recovering, though he will recover relentlessly. His pace also means that he needs cover from his center backs at all times; he cannot be the last line of defense.

Additionally, last season he was snake-bitten as a goal scorer, managing only three late-season goals from over 40 shots. His last was arguably the entire season’s most dramatic, though. That finish had to be his season’s high point, diving and chesting Cory Burke’s service into the net at home in the next-to-the-last game of the season to equalize the match in an attempt to stay in the playoff picture. In no other way could he have reached the ball to score.

His season’s low point, however, was striking a free kick off both posts but failing to score — at a point in the season when he had not gotten his first goal. Snake-bitten.

Future outlook

Because of his advanced age and lack of pace, Chambers does not seem to be a candidate for the Union. He is slow over distance on a USL pitch, although he was perfectly adequate in an excellent opening 20 minutes against Pittsburgh on September 18th, when the pace of the Steel’s play matched that of any MLS side.  He has spent phase two of Philadelphia Union’s 2017 preseason in Florida with them.

Having replaced just-departed Ryan Richter as captain for the last game of the season, Chambers seems a likely candidate for the Steel captaincy in 2017.

Central defensive midfield is his best position because it best hides his major weakness. He plays the position well both offensively and defensively. He distributes the ball effectively. He anticipates the opposition’s likely course of attack and takes excellent starting positions from which to defend.

That said, Chambers was also the Steel’s best central attacking midfielder in 2016.  The period of the season when he played there was when the Steel were most successful offensively. But his defensive recovery rate is a major vulnerability. Turnovers in the Steel’s attacking penalty box, whether originating with him or away from him, have to be cleaned up by others. Although Derrick Jones and Bolu Akinyode covered his pace-of-recovery deficits fairly well, playing Chambers at CAM accentuates the Steel’s vulnerability to being countered.

Ultimately, James Chambers is the elder statesman around whom the 2017 Steel will be built.

5 Comments

  1. Great analysis, Tim. It’s interesting to read how one area (pace) where he has a deficiency would make him unlikely to succeed at the next level.

  2. Atomic Spartan says:

    Two posts and no goal is known hereabouts as a Double Wenger

  3. As a follower of the League of Ireland (yes, there are a few of us here in the States), I would love to here James’ take on playing here versus back home. Particularly on the quality of play. So James…if you are out there…a penny for your thoughts!

  4. The Little Fish says:

    So if we line him up for a 50 yard dash with Brian Carroll, Gooch, and Ilsinho who wins? Who comes in last?

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