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In Defense of..

If you go back through the archives of The Unused Substitutes, way back, to the first few episodes, I mentioned a fan who stood behind me and heckled Georgi Hristov for being lazy. The same Hristov that was awarded the NASL Golden Ball for MVP. Fast forward to now and search the 2015 Rowdies thread on Reddit or even our comment section during an episode, and criticism has only grown louder. Is all that negative chatter deserved? I think not.

A quick glance at Georgi’s numbers in 2013 show why he was the deserved winner of the NASL award. With 22 appearances for the team, he contributed 12 goals and 8 assists to the teams 51 total goals. In the following year, when the team couldn’t get going and only scored a total of 36 goals, Georgi was directly responsible for 13 of them, scoring 9 and assisting 4. Which brings us to 2015.

In the twilight of the 2014 season, I advocated on the podcast to move Hristov to central midfield on the basis that he was the most talented and creative player on our roster and with the hiring of Thomas Rongen in, Georgi was promptly did exactly that at the start of the 2015 Spring Season. The spring was short, but by the end of the 11-game stretch he contributed 5 assists and 1 goal from the spot, accounting for nearly half of the team’s 15 goals. Then the spigot turned off for Georgi and the entire Rowdies offense in the Fall Season. At the time of Thomas Rongen’s dismissal in August, Georgi had notched another goal and 2 more assists.

With Stuart Campbell taking the helm, Hristov was moved back into his preferred role as a striker and there was hope he’d be his usual self in front of goal after the team’s struggles putting the ball into the back of the net. Unfortunately, all he had left in the tank was a couple more assists.

Numerically, 2014 and 2015 aren’t that different, and 2013 is a bit of an anomaly. Hristov entered the roster in stride and took the NASL by storm after only playing 16 games in his last year overseas.

I will be the first to say that numbers aren’t everything, and before you dismiss this by stating that he failed the eye test, consider the fact that for an extended pre-season and the majority of the regular season, he was training and playing a completely new position.  Almost immediately after the coaching change, it appeared, for a moment, vintage Hristov had returned. Imagine if he had the luxury of playing up top all year and learned the habits of those around him.

Coupled with the leadership and intangibles he brings to the locker room, his contributions on the field would be extremely difficult to replace. I think the solution to getting the goal production back is not only consistent minutes in the striker position, but adding a talented second striker early in this off season. If old rumors are to believed, the potential signing of Tommy Heinemann would be the perfect addition to play alongside Hristov’s. The Bulgarian’s mobility, creativity, and goal scoring ability would play well off Heinemann’s strengths. It is also worth noting that since the departure of Luke Mullholland at the end of the 2013, Hristov and the Rowdies have been sorely lacking in that creative midfielder role, and if the team retains Freddy Adu and upgrade the wingers, we should see an increase in offensive chance production overall.

If I am the General Manager and you asked if I should keep Georgi in 2016, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. It is the last year of his contract, and I think he’ll have a chip on his shoulder to prove he’s still a dominate goal scorer in this league and earn another deal.

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