Michael Lahoud's best quality, among many, is probably his versatility, and that could mean he's a man without a position of his own when Chivas USA opens its campaign come March.
He's a natural midfielder, nearly any slot, who last year received an extended look at right back. It wasn't wholly successful -- his inexperience in the position was apparent -- but he showed enough promise and possesses the necessary tools, so it likely will remain somewhere in his repertoire.
Not that the fourth-year veteran from Wake Forest thinks of himself as a backliner.
“I'm a midfielder,” Lahoud said, “so I'm looking to play in the midfield this year.”
That's where he's at his best, either in the holding spot at the bottom of the diamond or on the right flank, but that's also where the greatest competition for jobs exists. Chivas has nearly two dozen midfielders capable of starting, and most of them can fit into more than one slot in midfield.
“That makes it competitive, but competition is good. It brings the best out of everyone,” said Lahoud, 25, who is in Oxnard with the Goats during their second week of preseason camp. “Just being able to play a variety of positions definitely helps, and being able to play positions I had never played in my life definitely helps a lot. I just feel like, OK, I can do it.”
Lahoud started 29 games in midfield his first two seasons with the Goats, under Preki and Martin Vasquez, but Robin Fraser shifted him to right back last season when Jimmy Conrad was knocked out of the lineup after two games because of a concussion that ended his career. Rookie Zarek Valentin, now with Montreal, shifted from right back into the middle, and Lahoud's speed and athleticism made him an ideal candidate for transition. He made 13 of his 17 league starts on the backline, and Fraser sees him as cover for newcomer James Riley at the position.
“Mike could be a central midfielder, he could be a wide player -- he could be a wide midfielder, he could be a wide back,” Fraser said. “That's maybe the curse of being blessed with the physical gifts he's got. You try to figure out where's he best spot for him.
“Certainly, he's spent the majority of time with us over the last year as a right-sided player, either as a right back or right-sided midfielder-slash-winger. He's delivered great crosses. He's so obviously fast and athletic that we feel like he's going to compete for positions on the right side.”
Last season was turbulent for Lahoud, who missed time because of a concussion in mid-April (and a relapse in his return a month later) and an ankle injury in August.
“It was unusual for me just in dealing with injuries the first time in my career. That was very humbling,” he said. “But there was definitely a lot of positive learning experience in terms of playing a variety of spots. It was very eye-opening ... it was tough at times, but it's part of the game. You deal with it.
“I'm glad I got the chance [to play at right back]. If you'd asked me coming into the season, I definitely was not banking on it. I was banking on playing in the midfield, and at times I did play in the midfield. But that's a right you've got to earn [to play in] midifeld -- it's about competing to earn that right.”
Fraser says he has no doubt Lahoud will compete well.
“I think we had some good conversations at the end of the year,” the coach said, “and Mike knows what we expect of him, what he needed to do in the offseason and how he needed to come back, and he's been determined. Not that he didn't has resolve before, but not it's like he has a new resolve. And certainly that's going to be important.”
Wherever he plays, Lahoud knows he has to perform.
“I remember when [Fraser] said, 'OK, I want you to play right back,' I was like, OK, for one or two games. And he throughout the season, from day one till the last game of the season, he held that bar of 'I'm not asking you to play right back to fill a void, I have expectations, and they're high. And they're high of you. Fulfill them.' That's what it takes to make me a better player, and that's what I like.”
WORTH NOTING: Chivas made official the signings of Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia and, from its academy, Salvadoran midfielder Marvin Iraheta (Pasadena/Blair HS). Peter Vagenas' deal is done but hasn't been announced, and Juan Pablo Angel's remains in any-minute-now mode. ... Midfielder Bryan de la Fuente (Bell/Bell HS), a Home Grown Player whose contract was not renewed, has signed with Club Tijuana and made his debut in the Xolos' under-20 game last weekend. ... Chivas' preseason opener Friday at Oxnard College against the Ventura County Fusion begins at 10 a.m.
ELSEWHERE: In other MLS news ...
Former Chivas forward Justin Braun, sent to Montreal in the trade for right back James Riley, scored the lone goal as the Impact beat Estudiantes Tecos in a Guadalajara friendly.
Philadelphia was awarded the All-Star game, which will be played July 25 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. An opponent hasn't been determined; Manchester United has faced the MLS All-Stars the past two seasons.
Former D.C. United midfielder and New York assistant coach Richie Williams has been hired as U.S. under-17 coach.