KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fitting into a new team always presents a unique challenge. Contending for a starting spot in an area where that team is already strong? That only turns up the pressure to contribute.
For Paulo Nagamura, the key to earning significant minutes in Sporting Kansas City’s crowded midfield lies in his ability to play just about any spot in the middle of the team’s 4-3-3 formation at a moment’s notice.
“It’s crowded, yeah, but you’ve got to be smart,” Nagamura said at an introductory news conference this past Thursday. “It’s something that you just have to go out and do on the field, and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Manager Peter Vermes believes the well-traveled Brazilian’s box-to-box versatility makes him a prime candidate to meet that challenge, which is the reason Sporting brought him into the fold after he set a career low in appearances and starts with Chivas USA after suffering through injuries for much of 2011.
“The way we play the midfield, he can play any of the three spots in the middle of the field, as well as anchoring when we have one holding,” Vermes said. “That gives us a lot of combinations we can play in the middle of the park.”
Nagamura’s experience and game knowledge will enable him to shift roles during games as well, Vermes said – including dropping to the back line if need be. That’s a plus for a coach who likes to make in-game adjustments to his formations.
“He's smart enough to know those moments of when to hold and when to go, “Vermes said. “He knows how to destroy plays, how to break things up, especially when the other team is on the counter.”
Nagamura, acquired earlier this offseason from Chivas USA, joins a midfield corps that looks to be little the worse for wear following former captain Davy Arnaud’s trade to Montreal and the release of Jéferson after his disappointing showing in 2011.
Graham Zusi has emerged as a long-range scoring threat and free-kick specialist, parlaying his breakout season last year into time with the US national team. Honduran international Roger Espinoza has reined in his “Red Card Roger” temper without losing his intensity in either half of the pitch.
The arrival of Bobby Convey gives the team a proven left winger, Júlio César provides a steadying veteran presence in the defensive midfield and new acquisition Michael Thomas is expected to contend for an attack-busting role.
And if that makes it tough for anyone to grab a regular role in the starting 11, Vermes said, so much the better.
“The way that we improve our performance on the field is by more competition as a team,” he said. “If training sessions are at a higher level, then games will be at a higher level.”
Starter or not, Sporting KC is counting on Nagamura to add more than depth and versatility, though. He knows well what it takes to win championships.
Nagamura was part of the 2005 LA Galaxy team that was the last to accomplish the MLS Cup-US Open Cup double. Before that, he helped Arsenal’s youth team to the English championship in their age bracket.
Now, he joins a team that reached the Eastern Conference Championship last season and has set its sights on winning Kansas City’s first MLS Cup since 2000.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Nagamura said. “I think it’s going to be a great season for us.”