Lansing Ignite FC has lived up to its name in League One’s inaugural season. The side has erupted for 48 goals in 26 matches, tallying 10 more assists than any other club and securing the league’s highest shot-conversion rate along the way. Lansing’s attack is firing on all cylinders, especially of late, but much of its success relies on two players who rarely show up on the stat sheet.
Photo courtesy of Toronto FC II
Midfielders Ivo Cerda and Xavier Gomez are the oil that allow Lansing’s machine to run smoothly. Cerda and Gomez have been integral components to the Ignite’s success at both ends of the field this season and have quietly led Lansing to second place in the USL League One standings and a place in the League One Playoffs.
Cerda, who some regard as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, has won 56 percent of his 268 duels and 70 percent of his tackles, which is the highest tackle-success rate of any player in the league with 50 or more tackles. Lansing Head Coach Nate Miller tasks Cerda with closing space and disrupting opposing attacks before they become dangerous, a role which Cerda has embraced in the heart of Lansing’s midfield.
“My role is to keep our team going by dominating possession and recovering the ball as many times as possible,” said Cerda. “That usually means connecting defense with attack when we’re on the ball and disrupting the opponent’s attack when we are not. If I succeed in my role, I’m making everyone else’s job easier, and that gives my team a better chance to win the game.”
Cerda’s defensive and ball-winning abilities allow his midfield partner Gomez to control possession and dictate the pace of the game within Miller’s system.
“Ivo has the crucial role of being positioned correctly in the attacking half to control the counter while [Xavier] is our ‘spider in the web’ so to speak,” said Miller “[Xavier] Is the player who provides balance and control in possession for our dynamic attacking players. They are a very strong partnership and have a great understanding. Kyle Carr has also played an important role in our defensive midfield as well.”
With Cerda behind him, Gomez has more freedom to roam in midfield, which has allowed him to provide an offensive spark for Lansing, creating 27 chances while maintaining a team-high 85 percent passing accuracy.
“I feel very comfortable going forward and taking risks on interceptions and tackles knowing Cerda is behind me,” Gomez said. “Always knowing he is willing to do the dirty work and break up the play. We balance each other very well and any chance he gets to back me up on a play I have no doubt he will execute.”
The chemistry between Gomez and Cerda has helped the duo become one of the top defensive midfield pairings in the league. They’ve been instrumental in the Ignite’s recent six-game winning streak, during which the club has scored 20 goals while conceding just five. Lansing has shown an ability to score goals since the start of the inaugural season, but its recent defensive form has turned it into a title contender.
While Lansing’s back three deserves credit for the defensive success, Cerda and Gomez have provided a sturdy shield in front of them. During the past six games the Ignite have allowed the fewest successful passes into the defensive third of any other club during that period and the second-fewest successful passes in its own half, behind only league-leader North Texas SC. That’s a strong indicator of the way Cerda and Gomez snuff out danger in midfield for their side.
“[Xavier] and Ivo both play unique roles in our system in all phases of play,” said Miller “Defensively they are very fit, strong, and positionally intelligent. Ivo is crucial in our ability to control counter-attacks and X is one of the most underrated defenders in the league, he is extremely efficient.”
Cerda and Gomez will look to power the Ignite to a league-high seventh consecutive win this Saturday as Lansing hosts South Georgia Tormenta FC with the potential to secure the No. 2 seed in the League One Playoffs.