Jimenez Growing into Rightback Role for Crew
The Crew has started no fewer than five different players at rightback this season, as Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has tried out different combinations and players with varying tactical skillsets.
Of late, Hector Jimenez has been getting the nod at the position. Jimenez, a converted wide midfielder, has done very well in the role and provides the offensive ability to get forward and create. That trait is especially key in Berhalter's fluid, possession-based system.
"His system is a little different, as you see. I find myself being almost a winger," said Jimenez. "It's something that I've been learning along the way and the coaching staff has been doing a good job of teaching me the ways."
The former LA Galaxy man played rightback on occasion during his time in Carson, California, including in his first-ever MLS Cup Playoff match on November 1, 2012 against Vancouver. The season prior, Jimenez was a teammate of none other than Berhalter in LA, so the Crew boss and former defender is aware of the 25-year-old's capabilities.
"[Berhalter] has helped me out a lot," said Jimenez. "Himself, [Josh Wolff], Pat [Onstad] - the whole coaching staff has been sitting me down, watching video, correcting me on the mistakes I've made, which always helps out. I just have to try to learn and do the best that I can."
What kinds of things has Jimenez been learning? What differences are there for him to key on?
"Just knowing that you're the backline," said Jimenez. "After you, it's just the attacker and the goalie. You have to be sharper and smarter with the ball knowing that you're in that situation. I'm enjoying playing there. I enjoy having Ethan [Finlay] in front of me."
Indeed, Jimenez provided an assist to Finlay in the Crew's 3-2 win over Philadelphia a few weekends ago, upping his total to five on the season. But he's found success defensively as well, key for this hybrid role of sorts. His tackle against the Union helped spring the break that led to Jairo Arrieta's game-winning goal, and against New York, he won two tackles and made five clearances in a difficult assignment against international superstar Thierry Henry.
"It was probably the toughest experience of my life. To be honest with you, growing up, he was someone I admired a lot," said Jimenez. "Being able to play and defend him was something special."
Jimenez helped the Crew backline hold Henry to just one chance created on the afternoon - well below his season average of 2.53 per match. It was part of another positive performance as the Black & Gold search for the right mix headed into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"I think I did okay," said Jimenez on his effort against New York. "There were a few times where he got in behind, but it's part of the learning process that I have to get the right timing and the right spacing in that position."
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