Hi there. To start off this post, I should let you know that I'm back! Some of the more sharp-eyed of you may have noticed that I was absent the entire month of April. (Well, except for the one game recap that nobody else wanted to take, but that's beside the point.) Just needed some time to allow the creative juices to build back up and try to get over a rather nasty case of bronchitis and pneumonia that had me half dead for what seemed like three weeks. (The Rapids were 2-1-0 when I was sick with it though, so maybe I was on to something.)
Anyway, now that I'm back, let's talk about Dillon Powers. I love me some words about Dillon Powers.
As you're probably aware, there has never been an MLS Rookie of the Year from the Rapids. In fact, I can't remember the last time that anyone from the Rapids even came close -- other than some early looks at Tony Cascio last year before his playing time started to dry up, it's been a while since we've had the excitement of a super-rookie with a shot at grabbing some personal silverware from the league.
Now, Deshorn Brown has been an electric presence on the pitch at times this season, but I don't see him as the likely rookie to watch for the Rapids, at least in the RoY sense. He's a bit too raw, a bit too erratic at finishing, a bit too slow at picking up the chemistry of his teammates thus far. (Would Clint Irwin could as a RoY candidate or a Newcomer of the Year candidate? At the rate he's going, his name will be thrown in the hat as well by season's end.)
Enter Powers. He's been called the American Xavi not only by our own Bulldog Ben, but by MLS themselves. His game is highly polished for a youngster, with good possession ability, passing ability and the ability to put forward a thunderbolt from his foot if called upon. (That's a fancy way of saying, 'he can score some damn blooters'.) He can just as easily sit in the midfield clogging passing lanes with the best of them as he can get forward to contribute to the attack -- the true definition of a box-to-box midfielder, a jack of all trades and a potential master of just about all of them.
Through nine games -- he's started every single game this season, avoiding the dreaded injury plague -- he has really only had one bad performance, his second ever start against Philly. He's got a goal and an assist on his resume already. If he keeps up the pace he's currently on, he's a shoe-in for at least a RoY nomination.
I think there's a secret weapon that will push him over the top, though: set pieces.
Did you know that Dillon Powers could take set pieces? I certainly didn't. When they drafted him, he was supposed to be the guy who just was the beast in the midfield, and that was it. He wasn't expected to score on all that many set pieces, considering he's only 5'11''. Apparently, though, he's a beast on the other side of the set piece equation, and we didn't even know it.
Brian Mullan started the year taking set pieces, and he wasn't all that good. He's not bad at whipping a cross in or pushing in a low pass as a winger or fullback, but his dead ball skills have never been quite up to par. With Martin Rivero injured, Jamie Smith out of a starting spot and Jeff Larentowicz traded, he was most certainly the best option, though. (And, in his defense, his worst set pieces are still worlds better than anything we saw out of the Wells Thompson/Sanna Nyassi dead ball tandem we had in 2011. I still have nightmares.) There's a reason the Rapids didn't score on any set pieces through the first eight games of the season.
At some point though -- I can't remember exactly when, but I think it may have been during the 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake -- Powers started getting an occasional look on a corner kick. Eventually, he also started to sneak his way into the free kick positions, as well. That's nothing new, we saw Sanna Nyassi of all people getting dead ball opportunities in 2011 when other options weren't working, but Dillon has ended up being pretty darn good at it.
He was finally able to get his first point off a set piece against the Dynamo, where his beautiful ball on a corner kick was directed into the net by Drew Moor. It was the sort of corner kick that Rivero was putting in last season, and it makes me wonder if he shouldn't have been doing the dead balls right from the start of things. That's all in the past now, though. What's important is that now, there's an option other than Martin Rivero and the aging Jamie Smith on the squad for those situations. Rivero will likely re-take the dead ball duties when he's 90 minutes fit again, but now Oscar Pareja can employ some trickery into his free kicks, with two potential kickers behind the ball instead of Martin Rivero and friends. (Seriously, if it's Martin Rivero, Hendry Thomas and Brian Mullan next to the ball on a free kick, do you think the other team is going to wonder at any point who's actually going to take it?)
Even more importantly, you can add set pieces to the steadily growing list of things that Dillon Powers can do well. If his abilities as the American Xavi, his consistency and his potential for goalzos don't win him the Rookie of the Year award in the end, perhaps a few more great free kicks and corners from him will be what pushes him over the top. Seriously, defunct Tampa Bay and Miami have had a combined three RoY winners. It's about time we get one of our own.