I always giggle inside when managers talk about arranging a practice environment so that two hopefuls are competing with the ferocity of wounded badgers for every spot.
It’s fine in theory. You want players mashing the gas pedal at each workout, looking sharp, thinking sharp, being sharp. A “best practices” doctrine for practice would include a hard-edged mano-a-mano at each position, surely helping create the ultimate desired effect.
But when the rubber of the theory meets the reality of the road, this stuff only goes so far. Because one man is usually far more talented than the other – also known as “life in a salary capped universe.”
In L.A. for instance, Adam Cristman can out-work, out-hustle, out-shoot and generally out-perform Robbie Keane over a week of practices for the Los Angeles Galaxy – but we all know who starts come Saturday.
Now and again, the universe does come together, and this best-case scenario works perfectly. It’s happening right now at Red Bull Arena, where Mehdi Ballouchy and Joel Lindpere (pictured) are locked in pitched battle over the left-sided spot for Hans Backe’s high-flying Red Bulls.
Backe says Lindpere has responded perfectly to last week’s benching, putting all his Estonian want-to into this week’s sessions. So we’ll see who gets the assignment Saturday against San Jose.
My take: Backe will go with Ballouchy again – but it won’t last.
No one has ever doubted Ballouchy’s technical ability. That’s why he was the No. 2 overall pick (by Real Salt Lake) back in 2006. But his frustrating inability to impact matches is why the Moroccan-born attacker is already at his third MLS address – having never truly locked down a starting role at any.
His defense is OK at best; the tracking is unreliable and the tackling gets sloppy and foul-prone. More than that, his indecision or lack of aggressive action in the final third marginalizes all that technical passing, shooting and attacking ability.
Lindpere, on the other hand, is chalk full of will and industry. He’s had a bad time so far in 2012, not looking a thing like a force of facility and disruption that fans in Harrison have come to know and love. But a benching will probably shake the shackles, whatever they are. He is what he is – and at 30 years old, he surely hasn’t lost it.
Ballouchy is what he is, too. One rather impressive day against a static and disinterested Columbus Crew was one thing. Going forward? Well, unless Ballouchy has finally found his MLS feet, Lindpere will be back at old left-sided home before you know it.