Jason Le Blanc (@outsidemid) is a contributor at Two Hundred Percent, Tottenham blog Yankee Yiddos, Unprofessional Foul and Bundesliga Lounge. Le Blanc watched Joe Tait play multiple times during the defender's 2010 USL PDL Defender of the Year season, and while with the Dayton Dutch Lions.
It can be difficult at times becoming overly enthused over a new player signing, especially someone whom you have heard little about and seen in action even less, if at all. Union supporters might be experiencing this regarding the club's latest signing of central defender Joe Tait. After all, he was last seen manning the back line for Dayton Dutch Lions of USL Pro, a side that mustered only 12 points in the 2011 season and shipped 54 goals in the league.
Sure, he won Premier Development League Defender of the Year back in 2010 at an even lower level of soccer, but what does that really indicate? Might he truly have any potential to develop into a quality player with Philadelphia when facing pure professionals rather than semi-pros and college kids home on summer holiday?
Naturally, these questions will not be truly answered until Tait earns the opportunity to log minutes in Piotr Nowak's XI. Having seen Tait play and be a highly influential player in 2010 when Baton Rouge of the USL Premier Development League finished 3rd nationally, though, hopefully this provides some idea of just what type of player Union signed.
Positionally, he sits deep, hugging the line of the penalty area, tending to stray very little from the center of the pitch. In this sense, Philly have not gotten a CB who seems entirely comfortable playing a high defensive line should Nowak employ such tactics nor can he be seen advancing the ball up the field in this role. Instead, Tait seems to prefer the pass, either to his RB to restart an attack or he waits for a central midfielder to track back in order to kick on to that player.
Now, do not mistake this for implying Tait is ill at ease when he is on the ball nor bereft of ideas when it comes to sparking an offensive movement. He is actually quite comfortable playing with the ball with a very good first touch--a quality still needed in gobs in MLS--but rather, his natural inclination is to support an attack with a quality pass out of the back. Also, his solid play in the middle for Baton Rouge saw him control his area with little need for cover, thus allowing his fullbacks to play wider and the defensive midfielder to play further up, prepared to swiftly begin a counter attack rather than him.
What this could imply, then, is if he is employed as the defensive midfielder in the formation rather than at CB, he might become an asset not only at halting an opponent's offensive movement further away from his own goal but also be able to provide the timely pass that releases Philadelphia's attackers for chances from the wing.
There is a possible benefit to playing Tait in a more advanced position should this be an option if his 2010 PDL stats are considered. In twelve matches with Baton Rouge, Tait tallied six goals on fourteen shots, and these came about when either he was played in midfield or scored a header from a corner kick. At just over 6 ft, Tait is not a classic tall-man target on set pieces, but his ability to separate from his defenders along with an acute accuracy with headed shots suggests he would be an asset in this department.
For that 2010 season, he was the second-leading goal scorer for the Capitals behind forward Ben Callon, so Philadelphia could seek to develop Tait more as a midfielder at this level of play. This past season with Dayton, it appears his role was more so to provide the newly promoted club with some respectability in the back rather than try him out offensively, which likely goes some way in explaining his totals of one goal and one assist but with eleven fouls committed with Dayton as opposed to those six goals but only five fouls for Baton Rouge in 2010.
In the main, Tait possesses the skill to become a quality signing for Philly, but there will be a need for developing this through a reserves system and the coaching staff. The question might be whether Nowak's staff seeks to perfect his abilities either as a CB or perhaps as a central midfielder instead. Still, Tait is a promising player to get excited about coming to PPL Park, and this move has earned Union at least one more supporter.