COMMERCE CITY CO - JULY 31 : Jamie Smith #20 of the Colorado Rapids gets a stiff arm to the face by Jair Benitez #5 of FC Dallas during the second half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 31 2010 in Commerce City Colorado. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Last week on Twitter, I posed the trivia question to followers "Which current FC Dallas roster player leads the team in regular season starts?" While George John leads current Dallas players in regular season starts for the club, left back Jair Benitez is second with 70 starts for the club since joining in mid-2009. The Colombian has been a stalwart on the Dallas defense that went to MLS Cup in 2010 and his play has been remarkably consistent over the last two and a half years. However, Benitez's form had dipped to start 2012 and the discussion has to begin on whether the 33-year-old has lost his starting spot for good after his latest suspension.
I thought it was very interesting on Saturday night that when Hernan Pertuz was forced to come out of the game at halftime due to injury, rather than substitute in Jair Benitez in a straight swap and move Zach Loyd over to the right, Schellas Hyndman chose to move Carlos Rodriguez to left back for the first time, his natural position for the Panama National Team.
Since Jair got suspended for his elbow in the DC game, it had been Loyd who Schellas moved over to the left back spot, but now that everyone is back, and Schellas seems to have moved back to the 4-1-4-1, has Jair lost his spot? It is not possible for Hyndman to have Benitez, Rodriguez, Castillo and Pertuz out there at the same time if everyone is healthy and you wonder if the Colombian is the odd man out for the time being.
There is no doubt that depth is a luxury and roster battles at each position are an ideal thing that you want, but at 33 years old, and with the firey mentality that he has, how will Benitez react to potentially losing his starting position? I believe that the 22-year-old Panamanian Rodriguez is likely slotted in by Hyndman as the left back of the future and Saturday could have potentially been the decision that it's time to get him back in his natural position.
There is also the competition from Hernan Pertuz who, if moved to either of the outside positions, leaves Benitez on the outside looking in as Zach Loyd will surely occupy the opposite position whether on the right or the left. Whatever Hyndman decides, one of Dallas' longest tenured players has a major battle on his hands to keep the position he's had locked up for the last 2 1/2 seasons.
My personal thoughts on the matter? I think Jair, while he has struggled at the start of the season, is still an above average outside back in the league and if he focuses, he will win his starting spot back. Carlos Rodriguez has shown an ability to adjust to MLS remarkably well in his first six games, but Jair has the experience and knowledge of the league's attacking players that I want in my defenders. Rodriguez is much more valuable coming off the bench as he can realistically play any of the outside back or wing positions, while Benitez is really only effective at one position, left back and offers little as a substitute unless you have some bizarre injury to your left back.
It has to be earned on the training field, but I still have Benitez as my starting left back when the games really matter. However, the clock is ticking.