FRISCO, TX - APRIL 8: Daniel Hernandez #2 of FC Dallas slide tackles the ball away from Joseph Nane #5 of the Colorado Rapids during the first half of a soccer game at Pizza Hut Park on April 8, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
I didn't like Joseph Nane in 2011. In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to find all that many Rapids fans who liked Joseph Nane too much in 2011. When Gary Smith picked him up during the off season, it was to shore up the position of defensive midfielder, which was a void behind Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz.
Needles to say, he didn't exactly do his job as advertised. His first appearance came against FC Dallas in what turned out to be one of the worst losses of the season, playing terribly in relief of Mastroeni. His appearances after that didn't exactly do much to inspire confidence in the fans. The future of Joseph Nane looked to be on the waiver lines and I said that myself right after Oscar Pareja was brought in.
I think we're all glad that we're being proved wrong by Nane so far in 2012.Prior to this season, Nane had only played 308 minutes for the team in 10 appearances, two of them starts. So far he's already beat that start count in 2012, and is on pace to snap that minutes record in several pieces. Earlier in the year we had seen hide nor hair of Nane but the Rapids brass was telling us that they liked him even as he continued to be thrown around in trade talks or releases by fans.
I suppose they were doing some sort of work on improving his game, and so far it's done wonders. I suppose that's what happens when you get one of the best two-way midfielders in the history of MLS to coach you, but Nane has turned over a new leaf and is suddenly a lot more than the mediocre third string depth option we thought he was at the start of the season.
Following a dismal defensive record in a string of games, Oscar Pareja decided to utilize a Gary Smith style two holding midfielder system in his favored diamond 4-4-2. Joseph Nane was technically used in that regard under Smith, but Pareja's system has midfielders play a very different role. Even while being a defensive minded midfielder, he was called to get forward as much as possible to help in the attack -- we saw the same thing out of Shane O'Neill against Swansea playing the same position.
In the three starts he's been given, Nane has been a beast in the midfield minus a couple of the same sorts of errors that everyone else on the team was having in those games. His performance against Salt Lake showed what he should be doing on an ideal day -- holding the midfield down in the middle third of the field and then being one of many possible links when the ball is won back.
We were clearly wrong about Joseph's potential under Smith, but we don't know if Nane can keep the form he's had up for more than three games. (Small sample size and all that, right baseball fans?) It's going to come down to how he looks at the end of the season with a few more games under his belt. Hopefully he'll keep it up, having him blossom into a success story under Oscar Pareja is certainly a great sign going forward in the new system.