CHESTER, Pa. – Kyle Nakazawa has already started as many games this season as he did all of last year, becoming one of the regular fixtures in the Philadelphia Union’s ever-evolving midfield.
The second-year player’s vision and technical ability has been vital in the central midfield, where he’s started the club’s last three games.
But to hold on to that starting spot he may need to begin to do more. Specifically, his coach would like to see some extra spark from Nakazawa in the offensive third.
“We’re still trying to encourage Kyle to do more going forward and make more runs in the box behind strikers, because he’s capable of it,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “He not only has defensive qualities, but he can score the goal and he has a great shot.”
Before coming to the Union, Nakazawa certainly knew how to produce offensively, leading the Pac-10 in points (31) and ranking second in goals (12) while starring at UCLA. But his first professional goal – a first-half tally against Toronto on May 28 – didn’t come until he had logged more than 1,300 MLS minutes.
Could more now be on the way?
“I feel like as each game goes on, I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Nakazawa told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m still trying to improve on everything the coaching staff has put in front of me. There are steps I need to take to make me a more complete player.”
Being a more complete player, he says, means continuing to do what he’s done best — namely, tracking back defensively, finding the open man and taking set pieces — while adding more to his offensive repertoire.
“I like to have that defensive impact breaking up plays and stuff, while being able to contribute offensively and make plays in the attacking third,” said Nakazawa, who has a goal and two assists through eight starts this season. “I don’t know if it’s a pure attacking mid but more of a box-to-box complete midfielder.”
It should not be overlooked that the club’s offensive revival has coincided with Nakazawa earning more playing time over the past month. Still, the second-year player knows his starting spot could easily vanish, especially when the team is at full strength, which they haven’t been for much of the season.
“It’s nothing I take for granted,” Nakazawa said. “Everyone wants to start but we have a lot of talented players. Every day, especially in training, is a battle to win that starting spot on the weekend.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.