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Is Bismark Adjei-Boateng the new Jermaine Jones?

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We asked Pablo Mastroeni how he intends to use the new Ghanaian midfielder.

Bismark Nana Adeji-Boateng at the home opener on March 4, 2017.
John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB

It was a pretty quiet winter transfer season for the Colorado Rapids. After a 2016 transfer season that saw the club bring on Albania international Shkelzen Gashi, USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones, and top US keeper Tim Howard, anything by comparison was likely to pale in comparison. Instead of adding another splashy signing for this season, the team made a few small moves instead.

They added a late-innings striker in Alan Gordon, and added some young depth to the club through the signing of two homegrowns, Ricardo Perez and Kortne Ford, and a player through the MLS Superdraft, Sam Hamilton. Those players may see some minutes this season, but are most likely viewed as long term projects.

Seemingly, then, the only big signing for the club was Bismark Adjei-Boateng, a 22 year-old midfielder from Ghana. ‘Nana’, as he is called, spent from 2012 to 2016 playing for Strømsgodset in the Norwegian Tippeligaen, where he scored 16 goals in 85 appearances.

Nana’s signing just weeks after the departure of Jermaine Jones gave the impression that he was something of a younger, like-for-like replacement for JJ. Adjei-Boateng’s rights belonged to Premier League giants Manchester City, and that probably heighten the expectations for the player. Those expectations were raised even more by the official announcement by the Colorado Rapids, in which they informed us that Nana patterned his game after none other than one of the English Premier League’s best roaming destroyer-attackers, Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure.

And thus, a Nana hype-train was born. Local media assumed that Nana was the second coming of Jermaine Jones.

He saw only sporadic action in the Rapids preseason, missing the first two matches against Ventura Fusion and logging his first minutes for Colorado on February 15, playing in the first half of the Desert Diamond Cup alongside Sam Hamilton and Sam Cronin. He played the final 30 minutes in the second match of the tournament on February 19, next to Sam Hamilton and behind Ricardo Perez. In the tournament’s third match, Boateng came on again at the half, again in a deeper defensive midfield role. Nana did not see the pitch in the final against Houston.

Colorado manager Pablo Mastroeni certainly sees the similarities with Jermaine Jones. In an interview last week, he told Burgundy Wave:

“(Nana) is like Jermaine where he’s a presence in the midfield, he breaks up plays but he can get forward and then he can show up in the box as well but he usually is coming in from behind the game. More of a box-to-box 8 in front of the other midfielders.”

In the shorthand of soccer tactics, an ‘8’ is a classic midfielder that provides service and scoring on attack, but also gets back to defend and shield the backline against attacks. That is in contrast to a ‘6’, a deep-lying defensive midfielder who is either primarily a defensive presence, like Nigel De Jong or Diego Chara, or sits deep in order to be a long-pass specialist, like Andrea Pirlo.

Based on his pre-season usage sitting deeper in the midfield, Mastroeni seems more inclined to play Nana a bit deeper than Jermaine did. Additionally, in the matches he played, Nana wasn’t nearly as rangy or aggressive as JJ was, as he was mostly interested in occupying space to cut off passes, and only attacking his man when he floated into his zone. Jermaine, in contrast, tended in 2016 to attack the ball irregardless of whether it was in his ‘zone’ or not, and counted on Azira and Cronin to fill in the space wherever he left.

To that point, Mastroeni agrees: Boateng is more comfortable sitting deep than starting his play from a more forward location, and he’s more comfortable as a classic defensive midfielder than being the fulcrum of the attack, even if he has some attacking chops.

Pablo told us:

“I think he’s a double pivot. I think he feels more comfortable coming in behind the game. Although he can find angles to receive the ball in front. We played him in the 10 a little bit in the pre-season, and I just felt like he didn’t look as comfortable as when he comes in from the back with the ball and drives forward with it.”

So while there are some similarities between Nana and JJ, he’s not really a like-for-like replacement. Adjei-Boateng might be more Michael Bradley or N’golo Kante, a comfortable defensive midfielder with an attacking ability, than he is Jermaine Jones, a go-everywhere destroyer that brings his game to the opponent on both ends of the pitch.

So when he steps on the field for his first official minutes for Colorado sometime soon, expect him to be alongside Sam Cronin or Micheal Azira. And keep an open mind about where he is and who he’s supposed to be. He’s not the new Jermaine. He’s going to be his own man for this Rapids team, and he’ll let us fans know what that means in due time.