COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It hasn’t been an easy year for the Colorado Rapids' Anthony Wallace, to say the least. Not only did the 24-year-old, finally healthy again after two injury-riddled years, lose out on the starting left back job during the preseason, he had to switch positions in midseason as well.
But now Wallace has a new chance to return to an old position, and the early results have been promising. The starting left back on the Rapids’ 2010 MLS Cup-winning squad, the seven-year veteran has been a regular on the game-day roster at midfield this season, making the bench in 11 of the Rapids’ last 12 games, including two substitute appearances.
Despite starting the season at left back, Wallace said that he prefers midfield (his natural position) and, most importantly, he says he’s finally healthy, once and for all.
“On the positive side of things, I was able to stay injury-free the whole year,” Wallace told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “For me, it’s been frustrating at times, but everybody gets that. I’m just keeping my head up. I do feel 100 percent. Starting the season off, I didn’t feel 100 percent, but it was a goal I was working to. It’s going to take some time and some patience on my end.”
When Wallace joined MLS side FC Dallas as the 9th overall pick in the 2007 SuperDraft, he came in as a midfielder. In fact, that's where he made his MLS debut in September of his rookie year. But while with the US U-20 National Team at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, Wallace was used primarily as a left back.
Wallace struggled breaking through the Dallas lineup as a left back and he was traded to Colorado in 2010. He quickly took hold of the position and started the final seven matches of the season and the entire playoff run. His success led to his first call up to the full U.S. Men's National Team in January 2011, where he earned his first cap in a match against Chile.
However injuries severely limited the once-promising left back prospect the last two years. A torn Achilles tendon forced him to miss all of last season - that coming off microfracture knee surgery in 2011 that limited him to only 10 appearances.
With Chris Klute now firmly entrenched as the Rapids’ left back, head coach Oscar Pareja moved Wallace earlier this season, citing his athleticism and ability to push forward as reasons to shift him to the midfield.
“Anthony has some technical conditions that are difficult to find, and he’s a [natural lefty],” Pareja said. “That side of the game provides a lot of distribution. ... Anthony’s more aggressive going forward than defending. Instead of just forcing him to be a defender, you have a player who can give you versatility in that position.”
That said, with the season nearly over and midfielders Nathan Sturgis, Hendry Thomas and Dillon Powers all enjoying big seasons on a winning team, Wallace isn’t likely to be handed a significant role this season. But Pareja has been encouraged by what’s he’s seen from the No. 9 pick of the 2007 SuperDraft – perhaps setting up bigger things for 2014.
“There’s some things that need to get better, of course, but I was very happy with Anthony in the reserve game and he has been good,” Pareja said of Wallace, who scored the lone goal in the Rapids' 1-0 victory over Portland in Reserve League action last weekend. “The thing is, Thomas, Nathan and Dillon have been playing well. But Anthony’s production and his level now are good.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.