When you think of the most heralded players on a soccer field, you usually think of the goal-scoring forward, the pacey winger, the towering center back, or even the agile goalkeeper. But the one position almost always underappreciated in the sport is the role of a defensive midfielder.
Judson, ‘the machine’ or ‘a maquina’ in his native Portuguese, is the team’s unquestioned heart and soul in the middle of the pitch. Unfortunately, his positional contributions are generally overlooked by fans and pundits, and the fact that he is the only player on the team’s roster not fluent in English or Spanish means he has less media opportunities.
Judson’s role is to break up the opponent’s rhythm, fluster their most dangerous attacking midfielder, and aid the Quakes’ transition from defense to offense. He also has the unfavorable jobs of cleaning up various messes and being the last man back on corner kicks and set pieces in the attacking third.
Acquired ahead of the 2019 season after drawing comparisons in Brazil to France’s N’Golo Kante, Judson has exceeded expectations in his nearly two full seasons with San Jose. He has a tireless motor and can usually be found standing next to the most frustrated player on the field.
“He’s a crucial part of the team,” said midfielder Jackson Yueill. “He helps us so much on both sides of the ball; his sacrifice and his energy and the way that he can recover the ball so quickly. His attitude towards the game livens everyone around him.”
Since the start of the 2019 season, Judson has attempted 158 tackles and won 105 of them, both league highs in that span. And while he plays aggressively, he refrains from clumsy or reckless challenges. His three yellow cards this season pale in comparison to Portland’s Diego Chara’s seven despite each player making 16 starts to date.
“Judson is just full of life, endless energy. It doesn’t matter what day it is or what time it is,” said defender Tanner Beason. “We’ll have a road game where we get home at 2 a.m. and have to be at training at 9 a.m., and he’s by far the most energetic person there. He obviously works really hard for us, covering his man, covering other people’s men. It’s exactly the same way in training. What you see in the games is exactly how he is everywhere else: endless energy.”
Due to his inability to fluently speak English or Spanish, far and away the two most common languages spoken by the team, it would seem to present a communication problem on the field. However, the players have overcome the challenge and created a system that works for them.
“On the field, there’s a lot of nonverbal communication between us,” explained Yueill. “One person will give a look or a glance and the other person knows what to do. We can speak to each other in basic terms – left, right, step, back – he does actually know quite a bit of English and it’s getting better... We have that connection where we don’t have to say that many words to each other.”
Saturday’s match vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, presented by Valley Health Plan, kicks off from Providence Park in Portland at 7 p.m. The match will be broadcast live on NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.