If you are a fan of New York City FC, a fan of the USMNT, or even just a fan of MLS in general, you've probably noticed there were a lot of things being said about Mix Diskerud last season, including right here on Hudson River Blue. And even Mix himself admitted to last season not being up to par. Fans look at the salary, and then look at the production, and expect far more than what was delivered, and rightfully so. But, in signing Mix, the team was not looking for instant impact, the same you'd expect from the signings of David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo. These three players are all legends, having played, and succeeded, on the largest stages in World Football.
Mix, meanwhile, has honed his craft for the most part of his career in the Norwegian Tippeligaen - a league that many would agree is not even at the same quality level as Major League Soccer. So along with moving up to a tougher league, there was also the issue of fit, as former manager Jason Kreis struggled all season long finding the right formation to maximize his roster, including where to best use Mix himself. Mix played various roles over the course of the season starting as central box-to-box midfielder, to a holding midfielder, to finally where he played most of the second half of the season as a right winger with all of these roles having 'mixed' results. In all these roles he was okay at best, not really good or even "great" most games. But at 24 years old, he's much younger than the other marquee signings the club had made. Mix could possibly have been seen as more of a building block than an immediate impact player. Meaning that while last season was not a ringing success for the club or Diskerud, it doesn't have to be be-all end-all when evaluating his value to the team. There's still time for him to grow into the player they are expecting him to be.
That takes us to the 2016 season. The club parted ways with Jason Kreis, and has now entrusted the club to Patrick Vieira. And the first few scrimmages and friendlies of this preseason have shown us a few things regarding the style Vieira wants this team to play. He prefers the 4-3-3 formation, along with a high-pressure attack that calls for pace at the wings. So far this preseason Vieira has played guys like Taylor, Shelton, and Matarrita out on the wings. The common denominator between all 3 of those players is they are very fast and bring a lot of pace to the attack, and they use that pace to pressure the other side into turning over possession. Mix, for all of his strengths, is not a player known for his pace. While by no means slow, he's not of the same caliber as guys like Taylor, Shelton, and Matarrita in terms of pace. That will make it difficult for Vieira to see him as a winger in his new formation. In fact, Mix has seen all of his preseason minutes playing in the 3 man midfield Vieira wants to employ this season. So it leads to reason that Vieira sees Mix more as a central player than as a winger. And I think most would agree with that assessment.
But, in case you haven't noticed, the club also has more than it's fair share of central midfielders. Lampard and Pirlo will both have to play centrally as part of that 3 man midfield. And then you also have fan-favorite Kwadwo Poku who is sure to get more than his fair share of minutes, and hopefully starts this season. Presumably, much more than he was given under Kreis. There's also Andrew Jacobson, who's coming off a strong 2015 campaign and many fans believe will be needed to provide defensive cover for Lampard and Pirlo. The most likely reality is we will see a primary starting 3-man midfield that will contain Lampard, Pirlo, and Poku.
So where does that leave the ever-flowing hair of Mix Diskerud?
Mix Diskerud: Super Sub
At first, you may see this solution and think "that is a huge waste of salary". And in a vacuum, that could be very true. MLS is a league with a very strict and limited salary cap, which means you really have to maximize the dollars you spend. And typically someone with the type of salary Mix has you'd expect to not only be a starter, but probably on par with or slightly behind your designated players. But, as was mentioned before, unlike our designated player signings Mix was brought in with a possibly much more long-term vision as to where he fits in as a player on this squad. Match that with the move up, not down, in level of play as well as the crowded midfield, and Mix playing in the super sub role can make a lot of sense this upcoming season. Here's why:
Hate him or love him, and his statements, Jurgen Klinsmann has been often noted as saying he would like his national team players to play in Europe more so than seeking the "comfort" of MLS. His main reasoning? He wants his players to be challenged. He wants them on teams where their starting spot is not guaranteed. He wants them feeling the pressure of another player nipping at their roster spot to keep them in peak form as much as possible. So, while it may not Europe, Mix has this exact situation right now at NYCFC. We've read off the usual suspects already for the midfield positions (Pirlo, Lampard, Poku, Jacobson), but on top of those names here's a few others Mix will be fighting with for playing time: Tommy McNamara, Mikey Lopez, Frederico Bravo, and possibly Jack Harrison (if he's not sent out on loan to start the season). The club presents one of the rare cases in MLS where a regular on the MNT is not guaranteed consistent playing time, let alone a locked in spot on the Starting XI.
Every week, Mix will be tasked with proving himself worthy of whatever playing time is available. When discussing Diskerud (as well as Poku), Vieira had this to say:
We’re talking about two young players who I believe didn’t fulfill their potential yet," Vieira said. "Of course the point of my job will be to try and get the best of them. I will put a lot of pressure on their shoulders because I believe they have the talent and the potential to be better than they were last year."
And here's what Reyna also had to say on both players:
"They have a lot to learn," Reyna said. "I think it’s important this season for both of them to perform to an even better level. They have a lot of qualities and I think one of the things that I think Patrick will instill into Poku and Mix is even better training habits."
These comments highlight that both coach and sporting director are in agreement that they need to see more from players like Diskerud. I expect him to be challenged with proving himself in training, with Vieira making him earn a spot in the Starting XI. This puts Mix in a sort of "sink or swim" situation. Mix could end up becoming an albatross of a salary who can't make it off the bench in this scenario. But, I think it would be wise to bet on the talent and a coach like Vieira could very well bring out a Mix Diskerud we have never seen before, both for club and country.
Let's all take note of two of the names Mix will be fighting to both take minutes from and get to play beside: Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. Not only is he going to facing off against these legends in training on a regular basis, he's also going to have a full season where to gets to learn from both of these legendary midfielders. Is this an opportunity Mix is eager to embrace and take advantage of? Well, let's see:
My favorite player?— Mix Diskerud (@MixDiskerud) June 14, 2014
Easy, it's Pirlo
Does Mix have the tools to put what he can learn from someone like Pirlo in play on the pitch? Again, let's see:
As the title so eloquently highlights, Mix is capable of doing his very own Pirlo impression on the pitch. He's a willing passer, and can be effective out of a deep lying role. However, it's not only Pirlo that he can learn and benefit from. Let's take a look at another highlight of Diskerud's:
Mix at times has demonstrated, particularly with the national team but also in a few moments with NYCFC, having a knack for getting into the box and being a clinical finisher. Sounds like something Frank Lampard has been known for throughout his legendary career, wouldn't you say? This is by no means trying to say Mix has the talent to become the next Frank Lampard or Andrea Pirlo. But this does show strengths of his that can be honed by playing with these two legends day in and day out.
The worst thing about Mix Diskerud is that he is a hybrid midfielder. Not really an attacking midfielder, but not really a true holding midfielder either. This could also, however, be the best thing about Mix if he's able to hone what he does well. Learning from these two legends could put Mix in play to become the integral part of the 3 man midfield moving forward under Vieira: a box to box midfielder who knows when to make smarts run into the attack for the clinical finish, but also can drop back and serve up a pass to the wings that can unlock a defense. A player like this would pair very well with a player like Poku, who's always looking to attack, and someone like a Mikey Lopez or Frederico Bravo, who are geared towards protecting the backline. This would allow Mix to become the link that switches into the attack after winning possession.
Will this be how Mix is used this season? Only time will tell. It's one of the many things to look out for in the upcoming 2016 MLS Season.