We all know that Aaron Maund is a center back by trade and that since taking over Paul Mariner has decided that he wanted to try and convert him into a holding midfielder. The idea of Mariner using players in positions that they were not familiar with was something that Duncan touched on recently but the case of Maund is one that is worth a closer look.
For background on Maund this is what I wrote about him in my draft primer last year:
He would be a real stretch for TFC to land unless they trade down since this Notre Dame center back is probably going to be lucky to sneak in to the first round of the draft. He brings a good package of size and technical ability as well as the experience of being a under-20 US international.
My comments did not get much better when the club drafted him either:
The biggest knock on Maund, which had him falling so far down most draft boards, is that he is a bit painful to watch when he has the ball at his feet. He can mark a man well, can win a header, and do all the basics defensively but once he gets the ball at his feet he is like a new born deer struggling and fumbling to try and dribble or pass. Now from what I have seen of him, not a whole lot, he probably has the same amount of skill on the ball as Iro does but has better pace which sets him up to be a potentially solid MLS player.
So if it was obvious to even a passive observer of NCAA soccer that this guy was coming into the MLS without the skills to work with the ball at his feet why would you think he is capable of making the shift to being a holding midfielder and having to play the ball a lot more? Somehow that decision made enough sense to Mariner that he continues to try and make it work. We know it hasn't gone well so far just by watching the games but what do the numbers have to say?
Looking back over the chalkboards from the last four matches (@ Sporting Kansas City, v Chicago Fire, v Philadelphia Union, @ LA Galaxy) you get a sense of just how bad Maund has been doing in the middle of the pitch. The two main stats that come to mind when thinking of a holding player are distribution and tackles. If a player is making a decent number of good tackles and winning the ball back that is half the battle. The other half of the battle is keeping that ball and moving it to a team mate once you have won it as well as being able to take the ball from the defenders and move it up to the attacking players.
Against Kansas City Maund played the full 90 minutes in that holding role and was partnered with Terry Dunfield. Maund completed 11 passes successfully and was unsuccessful on 6 pass attempts. Going 11 for 17 does not seem terrible percentage wise but the issue is that over the course of 90 minutes he only managed to pass the ball 17 times. His partner, Dunfield, completed 24 out of 27 passes in that game. Looking at tackles in that match Dunfield only won 1 tackles and intercepted one ball. Maund won 3 tackles and intercepted 0 balls. There was not much difference in that regard as the entire TFC side only won 15 tackles all game. Problem is that going the other way Maund was tackled and lost possession 7 times. Dunfield was not much better though as he turned the ball over 6 times to tackles.
In the game against Chicago it was again Maund going the full 90 minutes but this time he did so without a real partner. That forced him to be a lot more involved and resulted in him attempting 49 passes. He was able to connect on 32 of them with only 17 unsuccessful attempts. The problem against Chicago was not his passing but was the number of times that he got caught with the ball at his feet and turned it over. He turned the ball over 18 times which was behind only Eric Hassli and Jeremy Hall in what was an all around sloppy display from TFC. Maund added in one tackle and four interceptions to round out an okay performance compared to the rest of the team.
He seemed to take a large step back against Philadelphia though. It was another 90 minutes of playing time and he was back with Dunfield who had returned from international duty. His step back came in the form of Maund only going 6 for 13 in passing. That number is unacceptable both as a percentage and for the number of passes that he attempted. In the same amount of time Dunfield was far more involved as he completed 32 of his 37 passes and was actually pushing out of his own end to complete them. Neither player had great defensive stats with just 4 tackles and 3 interceptions between them. Maund ended up losing possession 8 times while hardly being involved in the match but Dunfield only lost it 5 times despite spending far more time on the ball.
Against LA Maund was a bit more involved but the numbers were not all that impressive. He started the game in the midfield with Dunfield and both played the full 90 but when Richard Eckersley went off injured at the half Maund was shifted into the back four. He managed to complete 19 of 31 passes compared to Dunfield who connected on 33 of 42 attempts. Maund turned the ball over 13 times compared to Dunfield's 9. He was better than Dunfield in that he manged to make win 1 tackle and make four interceptions while Dunfield made 0 tackles and only 2 interceptions.
So what do all these numbers from the last four games actually tell us? The first point that I take away from it all is that Maund spends a lot of time being a bystander while the game goes on around him. His number of passes is far too low in 3 out of the 4 games as it seems that Dunfield is doing the work for both of them in the middle of the park. The only game where he was making enough passes was the time that he was the closest thing to an actual holding midfielder in the side and even then the completion percentage and number of turnovers were just not enough to get the job done.
If Mariner seriously thinks that this position change is going to work out in the long run he is going to have to find a way to get Maund more involved in the game and help him build confidence with the ball at his feet. Your holding midfielders are supposed to be the lynch pin of your side and they are the ones that link the defenders to the attackers. That means that almost every time your side is building on the attack the ball should go through them at least once. If you have a player in that role who is only making 13 passes over the course of 90 minutes it is safe to say that something is seriously wrong.
We could all see with our own eyes that Maund was not working out in his new position but now you can also point to the stats to say that he has been a bust thus far. The worst part is that it is extremely hard to find anything either while watching the game or while looking at the chalkboards to suggest that he is improving and just needs time to adjust to his new role. But hey, it worked with Jeff Larentowicz so anything is possible right?