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2021 Player Profiles: Jonathan Menéndez

Menendez arrived as a big summer signing, but he found himself on the outside looking in after Mastroeni took over.

Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images

A mid-season transfer from one of Argentina’s five traditionally dominant teams, Club Atlético Independiente, Jonathan Menéndez arrived in the summer as one of the biggest signings in recent memory.

Touted as an attacking winger that thrives off getting behind the defense, he seemed an obvious game changer with play-making ability. An appetizing acquisition that featured frequently in the second half of the season - yet, left a bit to be desired, The palate still unsatisfied. So just what went wrong, and right, for Jony in his first months at the club?

Menéndez came in as a signing under Freddy Juarez, looking to be an every game starter as an attacking winger in RSL’s 4-2-3-1, and this more or less proved to be the case. Under Juarez he enjoyed his best spell of minutes, starting in seven straight games on the right wing. Notching a goal and a trio of assists over that streak. During this time he was played as both a traditional winger, as well as an inverted winger almost exclusively on the right.

Menéndez showed more of a tendency to drift into channels and create with both feet, seeking out combination play and crosses, rather than challenging defenders with his speed at every chance. His dribbling and natural flair were present as well, rather brazenly nutmegging a Colorado defender on the Argentines’ first possession of his debut game. Still, more often than not he struggled to impact the game, and was prone to disappearing when creativity was desperately needed.

It wasn’t directly because of poor play that Menéndez found himself suddenly on the outside looking in on game day rosters, but rather an inevitable outcome that tags along with a managerial swap – formational changes. The same catalyst that has Lukaku complaining to the press about his play overseas at Chelsea. Pablo Mastroeni for most of the autumn lined up RSL in a new three-man backline that relied on wing-backs as opposed to traditional wingers. Suddenly, the heavily attacking position Menéndez had been brought into Salt Lake to play was now absent from the tactic, replaced with a far more defensive one.

During this experiment, Menéndez was forced to adapt to a new style, seeing minutes at right wing-back in-frequently at the end of games in order to contribute. The defensive responsibility proving a difficult fit for the 5’5 playmaker, who lacked the physical nature in his game to prove effective outside of the attacking half. During the post-season run that saw Mastroeni transition the team back to its more stable 4-2-3-1, Menéndez started in the season finale and the first two playoff games at right-winger.

What does this all mean for Menéndez moving forward? It’s hard to say. With a full pre-season under Mastroeni, it’s impossible to know just what primary formation he will settle on. If the formation is drawn up with traditional wingers, he is the go-to player on the right side. If it includes wing-backs – it’s not so clear. Given time to train as a wing-back over the pre-season, he could adapt enough to see significant minutes in this role. Only time will tell.

All eyes will be on Menéndez for an extra special home-opener on March 5th - his 28th birthday.