MONTREAL – “He’s simple in the way he connects things, and when the ball turns over, he leads the team in balls won almost every game.”
Any defensive midfielder would be happy to have that as their slugline. For one learning the position on the fly, though, it's the hightest of praise.
And it seems Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch – a d-mid of some renown during his MLS days – isn't shy about handing said praise to Collen Warner (above right), a third-year midfielder he initially intended to play as an attacking playmaker.
But Warner never made that role his own in Marsch’s start-of-the-season 4-4-2 formation, and while the Impact’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 four games ago has translated into flamboyant stats for Felipe Martins (two goals, three assists) and Patrice Bernier (two goals, five assists), Warner has been playing a quieter, yet superbly efficient role which Marsch has characterized well.
“When he’s at he’s best, you almost don’t even notice him," the coach said.
Warner, for his part, has accepted the role and the obligations that accompany it.
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“Now that Felipe’s a little bit more advanced, it puts more responsibilities on me," the University of Portland product told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. "He would also do a lot of work defensively and now he’s a little bit more attacking. The way it’s set up and our positioning being a little better as a group helps as well because there’s less ground for me to cover in between our backline and the midfield.”
Warner, who turned 24 over the weekend, has a certain degree of familiarity with the position. As a young boy, he played as a holding midfielder for a team set up in a 4-2-2-2. During his time at Real Salt Lake, he would either be the most advanced midfielder – hence Marsch’s ideas for him before the 2011 Expansion Draft – or drop a little deeper. In Montreal, he calls his position “the furthest back I’ve played in the midfield,” a selfless role every team needs to fulfill.
“For me, the most enjoyment I get out of it is just trying to make plays from a deeper role and start the plays and getting the ball ahead,” Warner said. “A lot of times, I try to get Davy [Arnaud] the ball when he’s higher up the field, or Justin [Mapp], or Felipe, as high up the field as possible so they don’t come as far back to get their touches.”
Looking back at the way he used to play in Salt Lake, the Impact’s No. 18 says he looked up to Javier Morales. Now, though, he tries to draw inspiration from an old teammate for whom he is full of praise: RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
“He’s probably the top defensive midfielder in our league right now," Warner added, "because of the way he moves the ball with his feet and also covers a lot of ground.”
High praise there, as well. And with the trajectory Warner's found in Montreal, something he now has reason to aspire to himself.