To the majority of Aston Villa fans, new signing Simon Dawkins is very much an unknown quantity. These are some thoughts on the former San Jose Earthquakes winger from an MLS obsessive.
When word broke that Spurs winger Simon Dawkins would be joining Aston Villa on loan through the end of the season, reactions were mixed to say the least. Of those that do not have much exposure to MLS, many recognized that given the player being an unknown quantity they would withhold judgment until seeing him in action. Others were not so kind, expressing the belief that any player coming to England from MLS should be treated with suspicion; that Dawkins came up through Tottenham Hotspur's youth system and was unable to find a place in their team only added to their belief that he just isn't good enough for Villa.
Among those that do follow MLS, the reaction was much less widely varied. There were those that expressed disappointment and those that expressed a lot of enthusiasm, but there seemed to be a fairly wide consensus that cautious optimism was the appropriate response. Soon enough, we'll have a much better idea of whether or not Dawkins is capable of making an impact at the Premier League level. But based on what I've seen of him, I think there's a very good chance that he will.
And for the record, I've seen a lot of Simon Dawkins over the past few years, including twice in person. My local team the Seattle Sounders played San Jose four times last season alone, and I watched the Earthquakes on plenty of other occasions. And in the 2012 season, the Earthquakes were a force. They led the league with 72 goals scored, with their closest competition being the Los Angeles Galaxy who managed 59. That attacking prowess carried San Jose to a Supporters Shield winning 66 points, and for much of the season the Earthquakes were unquestionably the best team in the league.
Much of the credit for San Jose's success went to their three excellent strikers, and rightly so; Chris Wondolowski matched the all-time league high with 27 goals scored, while the two-headed monster of big, physical target forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart provided tremendous support and combined for 23 goals between them. That trio deserves every bit of the praise they received for their performances last season, but when I watched San Jose I always felt that Dawkins' contributions were given short shrift.
He didn't put up earth-shattering numbers, but he was instrumental in acting as an outlet in the Earthquakes' lethal counter-attack, and his ability to take on defenders was among the best in the league. He's a quality dribbler with good positional awareness, and if you've taken a look at some of the goals he scored for San Jose, you'll know that he's got a pretty lethal shot on him. His excellent pace and ability to find space or make it for himself was vital in drawing defenders away from the Earthquakes' strikers. In terms of playing style, Dawkins is much closer to Charles N'Zogbia than Marc Albrighton, and given the style of play Aston Villa tend to favor at present that's likely a much better fit.
On the downside, Dawkins isn't the most technically gifted player and he's unlikely to make a whole lot of jaw-dropping assists or offer much in the way of relief in terms of Villa's set-piece woes. And though he's capable of putting an absolute rocket into the top corner, he doesn't always pick his spots in much the same manner as Brett Holman, leading to attacks breaking down due to shots ending up in the stand. He won't contribute much defensively, and though he routinely torched defenders in MLS I can see him experiencing some difficulty adjusting to Premier League defenders and having less success in dribbling past people.
All in all though, Dawkins is a good MLS player that fills a big need for the club and cost next to nothing. When word broke that Villa would be signing an MLS player to a loan deal, I was hoping that it would be someone like Osvaldo Alonso, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Aurelien Collin, or Graham Zusi. Dawkins isn't quite in that tier of players, but he's just below, and in a league that's top-heavy in terms of talent, that makes him a pretty good player. There's still a very good chance he won't impress with Villa, but I think the odds are better that he'll work his way into the rotation and make some positive contributions. Will he set the world on fire and single-handedly save the club from the drop? Of course not. But he very well could help, and at zero cost there's absolutely no reason to be anything but hopeful.