After a stormy start to 2016, the infamous verbal altercation with supporters, and a rebirth that — seemingly — brought the midfielder back out of the shadows to become a stable force in the midfield, the 2017 season was poised to be a very positive one for second-year Lion Antonio Nocerino.
2017 saw Noce playing in a few different positions, including his typical defensive midfield role, as well as on the right side of the 4-4-2 midfield diamond. You could not miss the passion he brought to the pitch, and how could anyone forget those videos of Noce driving teammates to practice and getting everyone fired up with some singalongs? It can be difficult for defensive midfielders to shine, but Noce had matches of pure genius, and a few matches where it was difficult to see his impact at all.
Nocerino saw a big jump in playing time in 2017, starting in 28 matches, being used as a sub for three, for a total of 2,234 minutes on the pitch, the fourth-highest on the team. This is compared to 19 starts and two substitutions in 2016 for 1,512 total minutes. He saw two yellow cards this season, one less than last year; however, he did see red once, on a very questionable straight leg to the back of the Chicago Fire’s Matt Polster in the 66th minute of a 0-0 tie on June 4.
Noce did not log a single assist this season, although he can take credit for a number of key passes on the offensive side of the ball. He also notched his first goal as a Lion this season in the 6-1 drubbing of New England. When he began to play as more of a two-way player from the right side of the diamond, he seemed to embrace the new position and role on the pitch.
On the defensive side of things, Nocerino was a positive influence. The scorelines of some matches may contradict that, but he was always that vocal force in the middle third defensively, acting as general arranging the players on the pitch. He averaged 1.3 tackles per match, 1.2 interceptions per match, and just under one foul per match.
The one standout statistic from the 2017 season was that Noce had an overall passing percentage of 85.3%, which was the third-highest for all players with significant playing time (Servando Carrasco at 835 minutes and Cristian Higuita with 1,555 were tied at 87.6%).
Nocerino’s best match was the match in which he started the record-setting scoring onslaught against the New England Revolution on Sept. 27. Noce finally opened his account in the 22nd minute on an assist from Yoshimar Yotun, and you could see how much it meant to him, the Lions, and the fans. He had an unbelievable 94% passing rating for the match that showed just how dangerous he could be from the right side of the diamond.
Final 2017 Grade
Nocerino was given a final grade of 5.5 from The Mane Land staff. He had some moments of brilliance but he also had some moments that left fans shaking their heads. He loves to play the short passing game, and this created some issues at times in the back. At 32 years of age, it was sometimes obvious that his legs just could not do the things they used to, and when he tried to leverage his experience, the lack of experience around him meant that his chess-like mindset was not only ahead of the opposing players, but his teammates as well.
This is certainly where the crystal ball gets cloudy. Nocerino’s salary is the largest on the team now that Kaká’s is off the books. As mentioned previously, he is also 32 years old, which does not signify a death knell to any player in MLS, but is something that starts to weigh heavily on the minds of everyone. However, those 32 years bring with them tons of experience, the type of experience that is needed to be passed down to younger players. It will be a matter of time — and negotiations — before we know if Nocerino will be back in purple next season, but considering his adaptation to the right side of the diamond, I would not be surprised to see him return to the starting XI.