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What Makes for a Good Team Captain?

Oh captain, my captain!

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Orlando City SC James Gilbert-USA TODAY Sports

Merriam-Webster defines Captain the following way:

1. One who leads or supervises: such as
a: a leader of a sports team or side
c: a person in charge of hotel bellhops

2. A person of importance or influence in a field
//captains of industry

Any way you interpret the multiple definitions, the captain is clearly the person in charge. Former Lion Scott Sutter took a break from his usual banter with (or is it at?) Chris Mueller to share his thoughts on debuting in MLS wearing the armband.

“Only in the @MLS can you be captain in your very first game with the club. I strongly feel that you should earn the right to lead your club and fans should be able to identify with that player through his dedication to the crest!”

One fan assumed Sutter was speaking to Orlando City’s choice to put the band on Júnior Urso’s arm in the home opener against Real Salt Lake with Nani out on suspension, to which Sutter replied, “Or Zlatan or Chicharito or Nani or Schweini or Rooney. The list goes on…”

This really had me thinking: what tips the favor one way or another for players to be selected as captain for a match? Nani is clearly the team’s captain when he’s healthy and not serving a suspension. If I was a betting woman, I would have put money on Mauricio Pereyra serving in the role last weekend, but instead new Lion Urso held the responsibility for the match.

I guess the question here is...did he earn the right?

What does that really mean though? Are coaches to choose captains based on seniority? I certainly understand Sutter’s thinking that a captain should earn their position on the pitch. I believe the honor can be earned in multiple ways. Time with the club doesn’t necessarily make the most sense to me, because some players may not have the confidence or ability to command the team on the pitch, or even the minutes of play to do so.

I have to believe that a captain hasn’t been selected just for name recognition, but rather for their ability to navigate teammates’ emotions and abilities through rough officiating — especially because it’s OCSC we’re talking about here. I believe a chosen captain has earned the spot one way or another.

I wonder with Orlando City, does the team vote for the captain? Does the coaching staff assign the position, or is it a combination where players nominate and the coaching staff selects from there? Based on Urso’s comments after the game it seems that the coach decides, but that last option seems to be the idea that serves the interests of all parties. Players would feel they had input while the coaching staff is able to confidently appoint a captain to [insert dramatic inhale here], lead the team to victory.

To argue with myself, I can also see why the front office might encourage coaches to select their “star” players and big signings, because in some cases (I don’t think this is true for OCSC) those big names are what sell the tickets. With that, fans in stands infuse the stadium with positive energy, and positivity really is a superpower in today’s world.

To channel my inner Chris Mueller, I’ll insert a quote here and a selfie (because I don’t have a team of talented photographers taking my picture) that shows me clearly deep in thought.

JGlash, The Mane Land

“Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negativity. Your certainty must be greater than everyone’s doubt.”- Jon Gordon, The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy.

In the end, I think a great captain knows his/her team and how to manage individuals, is confident enough in his/her own abilities that he/she can focus on managing others, has a clear identity on the field, can effectively communicate with officials, and stay positive in motivating players.

While Urso’s MLS debut was the first time, excluding preseason friendlies, we saw him in action, he’s been working with the club since the Lions acquired him in January, and it’s likely that the team and coaching staff saw what they needed in him with Nani’s absence.

For his part, when asked about serving as captain after he match, Urso said it could have been any number of players wearing the armband.

“We have like four or five captains in the team,” Urso said. “Everyone can speak. Everyone can say something in the pitch. So, thank you to Oscar for giving it to me, but everyone can speak. Everyone can control the game. We are a team. We are a family. We have to be like that. Everyone has their responsibility in the game.”

What say you, Mane Landers? Do you echo Sutter’s sentiments? Do you think the team or the coaching staff should decide? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!