Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is it time to pull the plug on the Khano Smith experiment?

While yours truly was reclining in a roomy blue seat in section 120 during Saturday's Revolution-Crew match, the following was shouted at length by a few enlightened fans during a series of Revs counterattacks:

"Don't pass it to Smith! Whatever you do - don't give him the ball!"

Of course, the sentiment is one that was surely researched at length, with critical analysis paid to Khano's weakness and strengths, various sample sizes of randomly-selected matches, and the climatological effects on left-footed Bermudan midfielders playing in New England's sultry early-summer humidity. In short, the comments were surely made after an exhaustive investigation.

So with that out of the way, the ensuing discussion is - in the wake of sub par performances -whether Steve Nicol's deployment of Smith on the left wing should be effectively suspended.

Smith, a forward by trade, was converted to the left wing by Nicol after discovering the Bermudan during the club's annual springtime journey to the island in 2005. After signing as a youth international soon after, Smith appeared in 23 matches that season, scoring three goals and chipping in two assists. However, since then, the third year veteran has been hampered by injury and inconsistency, and the former limited him to only ten matches last season.

At times, the tall (6-3) midfielder looks astonishingly adept on the left wing, flashing both the speed and moves atypical of a player of his physical stature. His size also leaves defenders with their hands full trying to defend a large, and at times, unshakeable attacker not often seen in MLS. This combination of size and speed, in some instances, offer a brief glimpse of Smith's potential.

Then there are times when he looks utterly out of place, resembling a kid trapped inside of a man's body. Recently, he has looked predictable; unsurprisingly cutting out rather than in and lacking the awareness to find open teammates. Surprisingly, through the course of the Columbus match, Nicol did not institute a single substitute, even after it became apparent that Smith was struggling against the back line of a last place club.

In essence, he is to the Revs what Wily Mo Pena is to the Red Sox: a player with tremendous potential, but has yet to develop in becoming consistent enough to meet the heightened expectations.

The club's overall depth on the left has always been a point of contention for fans and media alike. Joe Franchino served admirably in Smith's position last year, but it has become apparent that Franchino's lack of match time has indicated that he is no longer the weapon of choice at the position - which would, disturbingly, infer that Nicol believes Smith is the better performer. If this is indeed the case, it is a troubling indication of the club's inability to find a suitable player for the left wing spot, even though the team has a bevy of young left-sided prospects - most notably, Wells Thompson.

The question whether Thompson is heir apparent to iron man Steve Ralston on the right flank, or is the solution on the opposite side, remains to be seen. If the former is true, then a primary concern for Nicol and Co. should be to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible. If the latter is indeed the case, then the reason why Smith was not pulled Saturday night is clear, as Thompson was already busy manning the right wing in the absence of Ralston.

In any event, it's become apparent that Khano Smith experiment on the left flank will likely conclude with an obligatory plume of white smoke.

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