Eighteen games and 57 minutes into the 2019 season, Mathieu Deplagne finally was given a break.
In the second half of FCC’s 7-1 loss at Minnesota United FC on June 29, Deplagne was substituted out of the game for the first time all season. Up to that point, he was averaging 91.58 minutes a game – literally more minutes than a match includes. (Stoppage time isn’t included in MLS statistics, so that includes extra time in U.S. Open Cup contests.)
“It was strange to go to the bench,” Deplagne recalled.
This might not mean much now, but it provides context of Deplagne’s value this past season.
After playing exclusively in France, the fullback joined FC Cincinnati ahead of the MLS season with hopes of excelling in a new opportunity. What he couldn’t have expected, however, is he would become arguably his new club’s most important player for much of the 2019 season.
As coaches, tactics and lineups changed, Deplagne’s place in the starting XI didn’t.
What did change, though, was his positioning.
With left back Greg Garza injured throughout the early portions of the schedule, Deplagne, a natural right back, flipped sides and played left back. Yet, despite playing out of position, he produced consistent performances that included the Frenchman getting forward on attacks and reliable defending in the low block.
In modern soccer, few players run more than fullbacks, which means Deplagne most likely logged more mileage than most of his teammates – while also playing the most minutes.
Of FCC’s 34 regular-season games, Deplagne started 33 of them. (He didn’t travel when the club played at FC Dallas on Aug. 31.) He finished with 2,878 minutes played – significantly higher than center back Kendall Waston, who played the second most with 2,175 minutes.
And with Garza – initially the club’s only natural left back – injured, Deplagne compiled more appearances at left back (19) than Garza and late-season addition Andrew Gutman combined (18).
“To be on the field is most important,” Deplagne said.
But he did more than “be on the field.”
While the team struggled on the field for much of the year, the fullback’s ability to seamlessly transition across the backline often went unnoticed and under-appreciated. At times, it was also probably daunting, too, but the 28-year-old didn’t view it as an obligation as much as a developing opportunity.
“It was a tough season for everyone about the results, but for me, I see the big picture and we made the foundation of the club this year,” Deplagne said. “We put the city, the club on the map of MLS and it takes time. It’s a young team and a young club. Next year will be better for sure. I see the big picture, so I’m confident about the future.”
Next year will surely look different.
The technical staff is already busy at work with international scouting and contract negotiations to transition the roster to one that challenges for a postseason berth. Expect that work to continue and fruitful results to start becoming public in the coming weeks.
For Deplagne specifically, 2020 shouldn’t see him yoyo between the two outside back positions. Since Alvas Powell was drafted by Inter Miami CF in last week’s Expansion Draft, the Frenchman is currently Cincinnati’s lone natural right back. On the left, the Orange and Blue have Garza and Gutman.
Come 2020, there’s a chance that supporters will see less of Deplagne. That doesn’t mean he’s demoted. Instead, maybe he’ll finally have time off to rest and recover – something impossible in 2019.