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The Case for Jordan Allen: RSL doesn’t need a Swiss Army Knife

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If RSL can afford to give Jordan Allen one last chance, it could pay dividends.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Allen hasn’t been a player to build around — and that’s only down to injuries, because there are plenty of reasons he could actually push his way into a prominent role in 2018.

To see Allen’s 2017 cut short so early was a bitter blow to his chances in MLS. It didn’t mean defeat, certainly, but it did mean that he would have to fight that much harder for a place on the team in 2018.

Now, he’s currently holding a place — I suspect that will remain the case — but we might naturally find ourselves asking if that should be the case. After all, he hasn’t been making an impact on the field, and if he can’t do that, we should look elsewhere. The thing keeping him around has been that promise he has showed every year.

This year, that came during preseason. Now, that was a long time ago, and it really doesn’t matter now how a player performed in February. But with Allen, we had a player that could have won a starting spot early on and kept it, even with Brooks Lennon nipping at his heels.

Allen wasn’t the most raw, creative player, and he certainly wasn’t the most flashy wide player on the roster. But for a team that needed a winger that could and would actively defend, Allen was an easy answer to that constantly pending question.

Of course, we’re a totally different team now with a new coach and a few new players, so we really should reexamine this. Can we still make a case for Jordan Allen at Real Salt Lake making a not-insignificant (in MLS salary budget terms, not professional athlete terms) salary?

Enter Jefferson Savarino

When Allen was the perceived solution to the wide player conundrum, our depth sort of looked like this: Joao Plata, Jordan Allen, Brooks Lennon. Maybe you can throw Luis Silva into that mix. We were playing a 4-3-3, and that was the extent of our width. Surely, we needed something more, and we got that in Savarino. The young Venezuelan quickly made an impact on our team, and he unseated Lennon rather immediately as a starter.

Savarino’s arrival means we didn’t need Allen to be that first-choice player — that was good, given he was either injured, recovering from injury, or just about to suffer another long-term injury at the time.

That doesn’t damn Allen’s chances, though — or at least it shouldn’t. Savarino will almost certainly continue to see call-ups to the Venezuelan national team, and those absences require us to have a player around that can step in. Allen could excel in that capacity.

Left, right or center? Front or back?

I know there’s a lot of debate about where Jordan Allen is best suited, but he’s said himself several times that he’s a right-sided player, and that’s where he prefers to play. We played him on the left flank plenty of times, though, and we saw some limited success during that time.

Of course, we were as disjointed a team as we’ve ever been at that point, and it’s hard to really form assumptions based on that. Jeff Cassar as coach clearly didn’t have a strong sense of where Allen belonged, and that was, in part, because we brought in a player like Juan Manuel Martinez to occupy that right side.

At other points, Allen was tipped to be our Javier Morales replacement. That one came rather out of the blue, given he hadn’t played there professionally, and he’d been vocal about being a better player out wide than in the middle. Of course, he was more than capable of adjusting — he’s a smart player with a good skillset — but we didn’t really get a chance to see that before he was simply not played in that position.

Transfermarkt, with data from 2015 forward, records Allen as having played in the center only twice and on the left wing 12 times. He played right back four times and right wing eight times. Again, that’s incomplete data, given he signed in 2014, but he only played twice that year. It’s clear from that view that we’ve hardly given Allen the chance to succeed in one position, and that hurts. We don’t need him to be a Swiss Army Knife — we need him to grow and develop, because he’s far from a finished product. If attacking on the right flank is where he’s best, let’s put him there.

What value does Allen offer?

It’s not easy to see Allen as a starting player right now. We have to be completely honest with ourselves about that. There simply isn’t the room at current for him to get a chance week-in, week-out to play. That’s not a bad thing, though: If Allen is going to get past this latest injury recovery, he needs a chance to, you know, recover. Giving him that room could be helpful in that regard.

But that’s not value on its own. Having a backup is good, and its doubly good when they can play multiple positions. But like I said above, I don’t think he needs that. He needs one spot right now. Would being second or third choice at right wing really offer that?

I think so. We will have to shuffle things around with our starting lineup when Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata see international minutes. That could provide Allen with the minutes he needs to get going. Importantly, too, he might get opportunities with Real Monarchs to get back into the swing of things.

I don’t know that Jordan Allen can be the player we once thought he would be. But I do think he can be a good player for us, and maybe he can be a great player for us. We can’t give him unlimited opportunities, but it feels a bit like we’re best set now to give him those. Rather than strengthen from the outside, let’s give Allen that chance to stake a claim again. We can’t keep doing this forever — this may be the last year he has that leeway.

If I’ve learned anything watching Allen, it’s that he’s good on the ball, reasonably speedy, and very smart with his runs. He is better with better players around him. We haven’t even had a chance to see him under Mike Petke yet, and I really do think he could be an important player for the coach in his second year here.

The biggest test, for me, will be preseason. Injury concerns aside, Allen has to show what he can provide in a game context. It’s one thing to remember him being good, but we need to see him being good for us again, even if it’s not in the most competitive setting.