VANCOUVER, BC – “Effervescent.”
That’s how Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson described the play of midfielder Nicolas Mezquida in training the last few weeks. Not a word you hear every day.
One definition of it is: “Giving off bubbles; fizzy.”
Wait, what? Let’s try that again.
It also means: “Vivacious and enthusiastic.”
Now that’s more like it.
By that definition, Mezquida is as effervescent as they come.
“He’s always got a smile on and a Spanish song coming out of him,” said Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted. “He’s a great guy and his energy level is impressive.”
Mezquida's heat map from Saturday's match vs. LA
It certainly was on Saturday night, when Mezquida made his first start of the season in a scoreless draw with LA Galaxy.
The 24-year-old Uruguayan started the match alongside countrymate Octavio Rivero as a second striker, but was forced to drop back into central midfield once Matias Laba was sent off in the 28th minute. Mezquida said it was the first time he’s played there.
“Nico’s naturally been a number 9 or a number 10 all his life,” Robinson said. “To play as an 8, as I asked him to with [Andrew Jacobson] as a 6, was different for him.”
It certainly wasn’t easy.
With the ball, Mezquida still tried to get forward and act as a second striker. When the ‘Caps lost the ball, however, he had to quickly get back into midfield. That’s where he leaned heavily on Jacobson.
“Jacobson helped me a lot with positioning without the ball,” Mezquida said. “It was hard work. A lot of running, but these are sacrifices for the team.”
Mezquida ended up playing the full match, including over an hour with the ‘Caps reduced to 10 men. Prior to Saturday’s match, he had only played four minutes this season due to an early season hip injury.
So you can understand why he was given the day off on Tuesday.
“Nico should be proud of what he’s done,” Robinson said. “I thought he came in and set the tone from the first whistle. He gave us that little edge that we needed and carried on throughout the 90 minutes … and he’s still shattered today, which might tell you the amount of work he put in.”
That’s one thing you know you’re always going to get with Mezquida: work.
No matter what position he’s playing. And it doesn’t go unnoticed. Not by the coaches, not by the fans, and certainly not by his teammates. Asked what Mezquida brings to the team, fullback Jordan Harvey said without hesitation: a “work rate.”
“When you have guys up top who work that hard, it makes defending that much easier at the back,” Harvey told whitecapsfc.com. “It sets the tone. I can’t say enough about how nice it is to have people who work that hard up top.”
As an attacking player, however, Mezquida knows he needs to give more.
This is his third year as a member of Whitecaps FC. In 34 MLS regular season appearances, and 17 starts, he has just three goals and one assist. At the same time, the ‘Caps have posted an 8W-3L-6D record when he’s in the starting lineup, so something is working.
Perhaps it’s his partnership with Rivero and fellow Uruguayan Cristian Techera – the three of them are very close both on and off the field. Perhaps it’s the fact that he feels “so comfortable and so happy” in Vancouver as a member of this club.
Or perhaps it’s just his effervescence.
Whitecaps FC visit D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium (2:30 p.m. PT on TSN1).
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