Zemanski embraces new role with Chivas USA

Akron grad fits "Makélelé Role" in Goats' win over Columbus

CARSON, Calif. – In the fall of 1992, a young African-born midfielder burst
onto the scene at French First Division side Nantes. Quick and agile in the
center of the pitch, he was endlessly infuriating to opposing attackers.

He
would go on to an illustrious professional career, enjoying stints at
Marseille, Real Madrid and Chelsea. His tireless efforts would be rewarded
with a UEFA Champions League trophy, a FIFA World Cup trophy and 13 other
major pieces of European silverware.

His name was Claude Makélelé, and so comprehensive were his
talents as a holding defensive midfielder that the soccer community named the
position after him.

The “Makélelé Role” has become a staple of any starting XI.
It is that player who handles the dirty work; who runs tirelessly to break up
opposing attacks while simultaneously making his own offense flow smoothly.
It’s the man behind the curtain.

Last Saturday evening against the Columbus Crew, Chivas USA
midfielder Ben Zemanski staked his claim to take over the “Makélelé Role” for
the Red-and-White. The position had long been held by MLS original Jesse
Marsch, but the veteran’s retirement at the end of last season left room for
some fresh blood.

Enter the rookie from Akron. Zemanski was smothering in his
efforts to shut down a Columbus attack that had scored the most goals in the
Eastern Conference. He paid particular attention to MLS All-Star Guillermo
Barros Schelotto, hassling and harrying the veteran Argentine for 90 minutes.

“We knew we had to be aware of him at all times,” Zemanski said
after the game. “We knew he likes to find gaps and get the ball in transition.
That’s the key – just always be aware of where he is and shut him down
quickly.”

Much of Zemanski’s success against Schelotto and, indeed,
many of the other creative players he has defended so far this season, is less
about technical skill and more about mental dominance. The job of the “Makélelé
Role” is as much about getting into the head of the opposing attacker as it is
about taking the ball off his foot.

“It’s about always having an arm on him and letting him know
I’m right behind him,” Zemanski said. “I was always close to him and not giving
him any time. I think he was getting a little frustrated. He’s a good player –
he stays grounded, but I think we did well with him.”

Zemanki’s heroics earned him Man of the Match honors for the
game and plenty of praise from Chivas USA head coach Martín Vásquez.

“We’ve been playing some teams that have special players.
For us to have a chance to get a result, we need to close them down,” Vásquez
said. “[Columbus] relies a lot on Schelotto with his passing and his
creativity. Because of the position that Zemanski plays, that was one of his
responsibilities.”

Zemanski and the rest of the Red-and-White travel to Toronto
on Saturday to face former head coach Preki at BMO Field. The Reds are
undefeated at their home ground so far this season, but Chivas USA are riding a
four-game unbeaten streak and are bristling with confidence.

“We know it’s crunch time and we know we have to get wins,”
Zemanski said. “We believe in everyone on the field and we believe in each
other. We were in these games at the beginning of the season; the results just weren’t
falling our way. Now the results are starting to fall our way and we’re a
little more focused.”