MLS recently introduced a wonderful new feature called the Chalkboard, brought to you by OptaSports. After every game we will be dissecting a player or two from the Rapids using the Chalkboard from the previous game.
When we learned that Pablo Mastroeni's yellow card against Sporting Kansas City would keep him away from the Vancouver Whitecaps match, the first thing to do was to figure out who would replace Pablo in the lineup. Perhaps Jamie Smith would move centrally and play ACM as he did against Real Salt Lake earlier in the year? Joseph Nane might get a second chance to prove his mettle against a team considerably weaker than the FC Dallas squad he faced earlier?
Well, the game started with Jamie Smith on the wing, Joesph Nane on the bench and... Wells Thompson playing defensive central midfielder?
A surprising inclusion to say the least. Certainly Wells is one of the more versatile players on the Rapids but taking the role of veteran club legend Mastroeni is a tough task to swallow. Wells hasn't exactly been in great form this year either, playing mediocre ball while being slotted into a starting winger position. Strangely though, putting him at central defensive midfielder next to Jeff Larentowicz not only worked out, but it allowed Wells to shine.
Wells Thompson is pretty much strictly a defensive player, and that's the role that he excels at normally. Coming in late as a defensive-minded winger has always been Thompson's bread and butter, but he has always struggled a bit when it comes to getting into the offensive side of things and that's when the Rapids tend to suffer during his wing starts. When given the keys to Pablo's position, Wells showed a surprising ability to be a roaming box to box player without needing to throw much into the offense with Jamie Smith and Omar Cummings providing the attacks from the outside.
Checking Wells' heat map, you might as well see a giant block of red and yellow across both sides of the mid-field, the guy was roaming everywhere. He even dropped all the way back to a defender's role - a place that he has indeed played before when he started at left back last season - when turnovers took over and gave Vancouver a rare counter attack opportunity.
Wells gets a bad rap on occasion for being a ball-loser who can't seem to hold on and get good plays out of his area, but he might have had the best game of his career in that regard yesterday. Checking his distribution, you see a whopping 26/4 successful to unsuccessful pass ratio, with all of the failed ones being either head passes - something that Wells has never been particularly good at - and a launch about 50 yards downfield. Wells' tendency to pass back worked in the Rapids favor in this instance as well.
While his back-passing can occasionally get frustrating when he's playing the wing position, he spent yesterdays game settling the attack and setting up plays through others. Dictating the play is something Pablo does impeccably, and Wells was a bit less successful than your average Mastroeni game but still did surprisingly well at keeping the ball at the feet of his teammates. Speaking of losing the ball, he only did so a single time on a non-passing play last night, where he was dispossessed a mere three minutes into the match in his own end.
This might not be an experiment to re-try more than once, but at least for a night, Wells Thompson gets a salute for replacing our team captain to a degree that most of us would never have imagined he could.