Nine teams have had Cristian Maidana on their roster in the decade the Argentine enganche has been a pro. Eight of those teams have cut bait with him after less than 60 games, and the ninth -- the Houston Dynamo -- just acquired him today.
Houston picked up Maidana, who had a career year with one goal and 15 assists in 2015, from the Philadelphia Union for a the No. 6 pick in the 2016 SuperDraft and an undisclosed amount of allocation money. In the deal they also got former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wenger, who's now on his third team and looks to be heading toward his third new position, as Philly were grooming him to play right back and that does appear to be a position of need in H-Town.
Also of need in H-Town were chances, and there's no denying that Maidana was among the league's most prolific chance creators in 2015. He made 51 from the run of play and another 28 from dead balls, which puts him among the league leaders.
But there is a reason Maidana has been passed from team to team across three continents. He is a luxury player in the purest sense: He only does one thing on the field, and that's get the ball on his foot, then try to hit the last pass.
Maidana is actually mis-labeled as a midfielder, because he spent most of his time playing just off the front line or flaring to the flanks for Philly (he bends in more crosses than any other No. 10 in the league), and because he neither defends nor puts himself into the spots to hold and facilitate "rugged" possession, for lack of a better word. It's not that he shies out of challenges, it's that he doesn't put himself into spots to get on the ball in the first place.
This sequence against the Galaxy from last summer's 5-1 loss is illustrative of how bad Philly were in building from possession, and how much Maidana's positional passivity had to do with that:
Can you watch that and not feel bad for Vincent Nogueira? I can't manage it.
If you look at the list of guys who suffered the most fouls in 2015, it's a who's who of the league's best attacking midfielders. Darlington Nagbe, Mauro Diaz, Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Javier Morales, Ignacio Piatti and Sacha Kljestan are all in the top 20. All drew 55 or more fouls, and the league leader -- Sebastian Giovinco, a forward who moonlights as a playmaker -- drew 90.
Maidana drew nine.
Ok then -- Maidana's a forward. He doesn't help in possession or defense, but he creates chances in bunches. That's a good start, right?
Sure is. But forwards also have to score the occasional goal, and in his 4000 MLS minutes, Maidana has found the back of the net three times.
Here's a little bit of why. Look at this run:
He needs to keep that hard diagonal going if he wants to score a goal. Even if he doesn't want to score a goal, he needs to keep the hard diagonal going in order to pull Robbie Rogers inside and clear room for Zach Pfeffer on the overlap.
Instead he backpedals into space, because he desperately wants the ball on his foot, stock still, facing goal. This was a chance he failed to create because his off-the-ball movement and thinking is unidimensional. There's no playmaker like him in MLS, and there's no second forward like him, either.
Philly just spent the last two years trying to build an attack around that, and as of today it looks like Earnie Stewart, Jim Curtin and whoever else is making decisions in Chester have decided to go in a different direction.
Maidana is now Owen Coyle's problem to solve in Houston. The goal is to take an elegant player and turn him into an effective one. Jay Heaps managed it with Nguyen in New England, and Oscar Pareja's done it with Diaz for FCD. Feilhaber's rebirth under Peter Vermes with Sporting has led to an MLS Cup and a US Open Cup in the last three years.
For Maidana, the evolution hasn't happened yet. He's about to turn 29, and never have the chances he's created turned into points in the standings.
Maybe the ninth time's a charm.