Cristian Maidana followed up his debut campaign with a record-breaking season. His 15 assists were the second most in MLS, and the most by a Philadelphia Union player in a single season. The numbers were largely a product of his complete autonomy in the midfield, as he drifted from touchline to touchline to find space. Despite his demonstrated ability, Chaco struggled to perform at his best on a consistent basis. When he was on his game, he was legitimately the finest playmaker in Major League Soccer. When he was off, he was practically invisible.
What did he do right?
The 15 assists! That's a whole lot of assists. Though it isn't saying much, Maidana is the best creator in franchise history. He has elite vision and the talent to translate that vision from his head to the field. That Maidana nearly won an assist title with such a lackluster supporting cast is a testament to his ability.
Though he's a central attacking midfielder in name, you'll never find Maidana in the middle of the field. He lives on the wings, combining with full backs and wingers to create overloads. Defenses struggle to keep him under wraps due to his constant drifting, and he uses that to exploit mismatches and gaps in coverage. This all comes naturally for Maidana, who has been afforded tremendous freedom under Jim Curtin. Maidana's preferred style of play and Curtin's willingness to give him the green light have led to roaring success for the Argentine playmaker.
What did he do wrong?
Freedom can be a double-edged sword. I think George Washington said that.
Just as his constant wandering in the attacking third is symbolic of his tactical freedom, so is his inconstant wandering in the middle and defensive thirds. That's an overly complex way of saying that he doesn't run. Since he arrived in Philadelphia, Chaco has made it pretty clear that he's not getting paid to track back.
Maidana made known his feelings about running back in July, when an early red card forced the Union to play with ten men for 73 minutes:
"When CJ went out, I thought, 'F**k, I will have to run a lot this game,'" Cristian Maidana said through a translator. "I thought the team did a good job and we ran a lot to win the game."
Maidana's offensive and defensive tendencies are recognized at this point, and for the Union's technical staff, their valuation of him depends on whether his demonstrated production outweighs his demonstrated aversion to his own half.
Additionally, Chaco's goalscoring record is far from impressive. In more than 2000 league minutes, Maidana only scored once this season. It's hard to complain about his offensive record when he nearly led the league in assists, but that's an awfully low total for an attacking player.
Most memorable moment
When you only score one goal a year, that one goal becomes pretty memorable, especially when that goal is off a 30-yard free kick.
With another offseason to gel with some recent addition, Maidana should expect another season of a dozen-plus assists. If he manages to stay on the field for closer to 2500 minutes, there may be no one with more assists in 2016.