New England Soccer Today

All Eyes on Daigo

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

In many ways, Jermaine Jones and Daigo Kobayashi are polar opposites. One is fiery and charismatic. The other is cool and quiet. But with Jones sidelined for the first few games of 2015 due to injury, Kobayashi is actually a perfect replacement.

Before Jones’ late-summer arrival, it was Kobayashi who filled the role of the number eight, and with surprising effectiveness. A self-proclaimed “old man” at the ripe age of 32, the Japanese midfielder actually helped turned the ship around before people were talking about the “Jermaine Jones Effect.”

Consider that coach Jay Heaps often reminded the media that the club’s turnaround from an eight-game losing streak was already underway before Jones arrived. Yes, Jones’ presence probably jerked the wheel quicker. But before the ProShop was stocking replica #13 shirts, the less-heralded Kobayashi was one of the catalysts behind the resurgence.

One undeniable sign of his positive influence can be seen in the match that Heaps and others have cited as the official turning point of the 2014 season. In an Aug. 23 match against Chivas USA, the Revolution seemed destined for an unlucky draw to the lowly Goats in front of the home crowd. That was until Kobayashi, who was in the process of avoiding a rash tackle, pushed an ever-so-slight pass to Lee Nguyen in the 56th minute to spark the first of nine wins down the stretch that would catapult the Revolution into the postseason.

Kobayashi continued to make meaningful contributions down the stretch. With the cameras and voice recorders constantly in search of the charismatic Jones, many forget that it was the unassuming, yet tireless midfielder who helped ease him into the lineup. While Jones was building his fitness early on, Kobayashi often came on to spell him.

But the former Whitecaps midfielder wasn’t just an important substitute down the stretch. He started eight of the club’s final 11 regular season games, often serving as a safety valve while Jones followed the beat of his own drum. The Japanese wasn’t afraid to play muscular football when needed, as he inflicted nearly as many fouls (21) as he drew (23).

It’s easy to see why Heaps had no qualms placing his trust in him, and not just during the latter half of the season. While the midfield unit as a whole struggled with possession for much of last season, Kobayashi did all he could to reverse that trend by leading all regulars with an 85.6 passing accuracy percentage. And he was versatile, too, playing as a #10 at times, while donning the #6 or #8 shirt on other occasions.

Another important stat to take into account concerning Kobayashi’s impact: 13-8-2. That was the Revolution’s record in 2014 when Kobayashi’s name was included in the first XI. Was he single-handedly responsible for the club’s success when he stepped on the pitch? By no means. But it’s hard to argue that he didn’t bolster his club’s chances at success with his distribution, whether it was daring (and there were definitely at times in which it was), ordinary, or sublime.

Let’s be honest: Kobayashi is no Jones, and he’ll be the first tell you that. He won’t be launching 40-yard assists, nor will he make a deep run and uncork shot into the back of the net. But he will help the Revolution ping it around the park and, when the occasion presents itself, put the ball right on the chest of a well-positioned teammate.

In short, Kobayashi doesn’t have to be Jones, or a passable replica, for the Revolution to succeed with the U.S. international on the shelf early on. He just needs to be himself.

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