Rodney Wallace is fast. He is good with ball at his feet. He has a wicked shot. He crosses well. He gets into dangerous positions. He is occasionally out of position on defense. His passing is not always on target. He occasionally loses his man.
Does he belong in the midfield or manning the defense?
Rodney Wallace debuted as a left back for the Timbers last year. After falling out of favor thanks to some costly defensive gaffes, Wallace found his way back on to the field for the Timbers as a left midfielder, helping to close out games in front of Mike Chabala. Finally, at the end of the season, Wallace started the last two games of the season at left back.
During the Major League Soccer season, and again during the winter break, Wallace also played for the Costa Rican national team. Each time he came came on as a substitution on the left side of midfield.
Wallace’s success with his national team, as well as his attacking style of play, has made his ideal position something commonly speculated about. A recognized talent, Timbers fans have been split on Wallace since his arrival in the Rose City.
After the jump, find out where our editors think Wallace should play, plus some quotes from the man himself on where he will be playing this year.
In an interview with Wallace shortly after the beginning of training camp this season I asked him about how his time spent with the Costa Rican national team over the break had helped him coming into camp.
"I came in ready to play and my legs don't feel as tired or sore because I was playing a lot. If was definitely an advantage for me. I am just here to work. Now I'm playing for the Timbers and that's the main priority right now," he said.
When asked if he saw himself as a midfielder rather than a defender after playing several games further forward up the pitch, Wallace said, "No, I don't think so. I think that those were just changes that were made for different games, whatever the situation was, but I am known as a left back and that is the position that I will be playing. I don't know what the plans are for me with the coach. As of right now I am a left back."
In the Timbers three pre-season games since then, Wallace has seen time at left back in two games and played on the right wing in the third. In the Timbers first preseason game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Wallace was part of the first half defense that effectively dealt with the LA attack. In the third preseason game, Wallace’s second appearance at left back, the Timbers managed to shut out a Houston Dynamo team that were very effective at scoring on the Timbers last year, although reports indicate that the Timbers defense struggled at times. Finally, during the Timbers second game, against the Montreal Impact, Wallace lined up as a midfielder and did not leave much of a stamp on the game.
Clearly the Rodney Wallace as a midfielder experiment continues.
Where does he stand in our eyes? The Stumptown Footy editors weigh in:
Rodney Wallace is a midfielder who has be masquerading as a fullback since his time at Maryland University. His speed and his ability to go forward are good qualities of a fullback but his lack of positional awareness and the fact that sometimes he gets caught ball watching are liabilities no team can have. Using him as a midfielder would be the perfect solution, especially in late game situations when Portland either needs to score or needs a threat of a counter-attack. However I am not sure he could earn minutes on the wing given some of the other players on the roster.
Rodney Wallace is the fastest guy on the team. And that's saying something, on a team built on speed. He's crazy fast. But speed only goes so far when you're trying to stop a run down the wing, and at least in 2011 he appeared to lack the size and the vision necessary for a fullback. His speed and nose for goal would be of far greater utility in the midfield. If he gets a chance to play in the midfield on a regular basis, he will score goals -- whether that makes up for his deficiencies will determine whether he becomes a starter in 2012.
For a long time I was in the stick-him-in-midfield camp, but recently, I have had the urge to see him lined up in the back once again. Lost in all the talk of his unfortunate ability to lose his man at just the wrong moment early on last year is the fact that Rodney Wallace is only 23. He is still growing as a player and has the physical tools necessary to be an excellent fullback. If he can mature just a little bit, and if the players on the wing in front of him can as well, Wallace could be an excellent left back in Major League Soccer. When Wallace was reinserted into the starting line-up at the end of the season, he looked markedly better than he did early on in the season. He improved last year and I believe he can continue his upward trajectory this year as well.