At the end of the 2009 season, the center of the Chivas USA midfield was in transition. The retirements of Jesse Marsch and Sasha Victorine, and the departure of Paulo Nagamura to the Mexican league, left a gaping hole in the middle of the field for the Red-and-White.
But last Saturday, a pair of 21-year-old rookies staked their claim to the vacant central midfield positions, and did so with vigor. Ben Zemanski and Blair Gavin, who were drafted 10th and 47th respectively by Chivas USA, earned their first start as a pair against San Jose last weekend.
“Ben and Blair were awesome tonight,” said captain Sacha Kljestan after the game against San Jose. “They played great.”
The most noticeable aspect of the pair’s performance against the Earthquakes was the ease with which they were able to play alongside one another. The two moved and passed seamlessly, a result of a partnership that reaches back three years.
Zemanski and Gavin were teammates at the University of Akron from 2007-2009, serving as co-captains for the 2009 season. The pair enjoyed immense success at Akron, leading the team to a 23-1-1 record and a spot in the NCAA final last year.
“I was convinced that they can work together when I saw them play in the semifinal and the final of the NCAA Final Four,” said head coach Martín Vásquez. “They’ve been playing together at Akron for three years. There’s a good chemistry there. We gave them the opportunity, we showed confidence, and they responded.”
Gavin, who started his fourth game in a row, admitted he was happy to have Zemanski in the lineup with him.
“Ben and I have played together for three years now,” said Gavin. “We help each other out when we’re in bad situations and we know each other well. We always pick up the workload for each other. It’s nice.”
For debutant Zemanski, Saturday’s start brought on some nerves as he walked out onto the field, but he was calmed by the presence of his former college teammate.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “All the lights, the fans, the music. But once the game started, I just tried to focus on doing my job. It’s a lot easier when Blair is out there.”