Of anyone in the squad, Jonny Steele might be said to have had two seasons jam-packed into the space of one. He started with a bit of an Irish bang (which I am assured is nothing like that delectable Orange Bang drink), knocking in a couple goals early on. Spirits were high, mentality was right, and everyone seemed pretty happy with RSL's new super sub.
The former USL-1 MVP presented a few things in midfield that Jason Kreis is constantly looking for, the most prominent of which is his workman drive. Steele was putting in good shift after good shift in training, unafraid to put in a good tackle when the time was right and bustling with energy. If the goals weren't enough, his energy kept Kreis coming back for more.
And rightly so. When Will Johnson was out with injury or, say, the Canadian national team, Steele came in and provided endless amounts of energy and a fantastic left foot. At times, Kreis's side has been accused of dallying around the box: Jonny Steele, though sometimes not the most composed around the box, had an intensity and energy about him that made him a valuable addition to the squad. Training intensity, challenging for places, and the odd goal - but something still seemed a bit missing.
As the season went on, Steele's performances grew more scattershot. Some good moments here, a few bad moments there, a misplaced pass or two - it didn't sit well with some swathes of fans. When the goals dried up (of course, there were only two, so drying up may be an unfair analysis), opinion turned a bit more sour. The composure he'd showed early on to net goals against Toronto and Portland was just, well, not quite there.
Of course, his passing wasn't so bad - he lost the ball a bit more than Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson, both of whom are highly efficient in the middle of the park, but he wasn't constantly losing the ball as some might hold. But as the season went on, he was seen making fewer of those so-called "Hollywood balls" - the long pass from deep in midfield that David Beckham made a crucial part of his game - with more focus on the connective part of the game that was perhaps missing.
But with more of a focus the short pass, more balls were put into - shall we say - sub-optimal positions. But rather than defer to the common notion that he simply wasn't good enough, I'd put that down to a few factors.
1. It's a long, grueling season we've got here. The cross-country travel surely must take it out of players who aren't quite used to it, and undoubtedly, fatigue would set in a bit for a first-year player who may not be entirely prepared.
2. Fitness. Steele struggled a bit with his fitness early on, and though he didn't succumb to injury, there was always a sense that he wasn't quite at the right level. His dogged devotion to his fitness was admirable - as evidenced by constant social media outpourings (of sorts), but it wasn't quite enough. A few ticks higher and he'd likely have been fine, but it didn't mix well with late-season fatigue.
3. Jonny Steele became a bit of a scapegoat for a problem we were experiencing on a wider scale: An inability to find the back of the net. I wouldn't put this down to finishing - I'm not sure most people would, by and large - but to a strange lack of creativity in the midfield. Steele is hardly the least creative player on the pitch, but likewise, he's hardly the most creative player out there, either.
Verdict: If he can stay at the minimum cap hit, think about keeping him - but thanks to a propensity to reading too much into social media, I suspect his fate may be sealed.