Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC.

José Aguinaga is Phoenix Rising’s glue guy, but he isn’t a normal one. Usually, the term “glue guy” indicates that a player isn’t great at anything but provides value to a team by being okay at a few different things. However, Aguinaga isn’t just average at a few things: he is very, very good at a several different things.

He may not be a goal-scoring threat like Adam Jahn or an unpredictable wide attacker like Solomon Asante, but Aguinaga’s versatile skill set is what holds Phoenix together. Today, we are going to look at three of the Spaniard’s best qualities to help increase appreciation for his game.

He covers ground

As a central midfielder, Aguinaga plays one of the most physically demanding positions on the field. Central midfielders are constantly required to run back and forth from attack to defense, covering ground and winning the ball. 

In Phoenix’s 4-3-3 shape, Aguinaga is tasked with a variety of different defensive duties. When Phoenix high-press, he is called to push forward and man-mark an opposing central midfielder. By getting tight to an opponent, Aguinaga limits that player’s ability to receive the ball and helps Phoenix deny dangerous central attacks. If the opposing team breaks through the pressure, Aguinaga is responsible for tracking back and shielding the back four.

When Phoenix defend in a lower block, Jon Bakero, Aguinaga, and James Musa form a compact central midfield spine. In the block, Aguinaga and the rest of the central midfielders have to be disciplined with their positioning to cut off passing angles and mark opposing attackers.

Though Musa is technically labelled as the “defensive midfielder” because he plays as the deepest of the three CMs, Aguinaga’s defensive statistics tell a different story. He is top five on the entire team in interceptions, tackles, tackles won, duels, and duels won. 

Coming from the New York Red Bulls’ system – one that is known for aggressive defensive play – it’s not surprising that Aguinaga’s defensive numbers have been so good this season. In fact, with his role in the press, smart marking in a defensive block, and impressive statistics, Aguinaga may be the most important piece in Phoenix Rising’s defensive puzzle.

He gets out of tight spaces

When Aguinaga gets on the ball after working hard in defense, he brings a rare level of calmness to Phoenix Rising’s possession play. He is comfortable receiving the ball under pressure and turning into open space. 

Given how Rick Schantz wants his team to operate, having someone who can settle the ball in tough moments and help keep possession is extremely critical for Phoenix’s offensive game plan.

Acting as an outlet for forward passes from the backline, Aguinaga is huge part of Phoenix’s buildup play. Last week, his ability to drop deep and be available during buildup helped Phoenix move pass Oklahoma City’s high-press. Look at how Aguinaga moves into a pocket of space, turns away from pressure, carries the ball forward, and draws a foul.

Aguinaga is brave on the ball. He’s not afraid to take risks in tight spaces.

In this play from Phoenix’s 4-2 win over the Real Monarchs, Aguinaga sends two opposing players for a loop with three well-weighted touches and some quick body movements.

Monarchs forward Douglas Martínez threw his hands in the air in frustration after getting fooled in the above clip. That’s how irritating it is to defend against Aguinaga. 

He acts as a connector in midfield

Being able to receive the ball, turn, and avoid pressure is helpful, but if you can’t play the ball forward, comfort under pressure is an ultimately worthless skill. Aguinaga doesn’t have to worry about that. He uses his spatial awareness to give himself extra opportunities to connect play in midfield and move the ball into the attack. 

Phoenix Rising’s frontline frequently benefits from Aguinaga’s ability to act as a conduit between defense and attack. Opposing defenses know that Aguinaga is smooth on the ball and are often forced to step towards him, leaving space for Phoenix’s advanced attackers to receive the ball. That’s exactly what happens in this clip:

Aguianga turned out of pressure, sucked in three defenders, and found Jahn between the lines.

In this similar sequence, he receives the ball, drives forward, and forces two Tulsa players to choose between stepping to him and dropping to cover Junior Flemmings. Aguianga spots a moment of indecision and plays the ball through to Flemmings, who has time to turn and dribble forward into the attack.

With Musa typically pulling the attacking strings from a deeper position and Bakero moving around on one side of the field, having Aguinaga as a reliable and creative connector is what allows Phoenix to have such a balanced midfield. 

He does not get as much attention as some of Phoenix Rising’s other attacking players, but Aguinaga is one of the most highly-skilled and well-rounded players on the roster. When Kevon Lambert comes back from the Gold Cup, it’s going to be tough for him to find a starting spot in midfield: with his defensive capabilities and offensive flair, Aguinaga might just be indispensable.

Not bad for a glue guy.

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