20 April 2007

There is Nothing Wrong With United That Can Not Be Fixed By What Is Right With United

Aaron Stollar at the Screaming Eagles site lays down the challenge, and I applaud his willingness to be definitive even as I'm about to say he's wrong:

As it stands right now, DC United has one of the worst defenses I have witnessed in MLS. And, more importantly, I have no idea how they are going to fix it without making some kind of deal very quickly.

Aaron suggests that Brian Carroll should be shopped around, a deal that would probably make at least one other person happy.

Speaking for the defense, Mike Martin at UnitedMania (which, by the way, now has a functioning blog that I'm planning to read regularly) goes with a different approach:

Apparently, it’s never too early to panic for United fans and media...if you look at those goals, there’s no reason to believe the system is at fault. DC had players in the right positions for coverage in every situation, they just didn’t do their jobs.
Personally, I tend to agree with Martin on this one: the system isn't at fault, but the players are. That being said, I wonder if this is the best system to maximize the potential of this team. I also think that Martin's proposed solution is rather self-fulfilling: If they win a few games, they'll have the confidence to win more. Tough to argue with that, but what if they keep losing?

Do not be fooled by BlackDogRed not devoting himself 100% to soccer, the man poses provocative questions:

I don't think it an accident, btw, that Carroll and Gros have regressed - they were Nowak's creations: maybe they're reverting to their natural level rather than slumping.
He tends to be on the side of "The system is wrong" but I think he's actually pointed out something he never intended -- This is not Nowak's team, and it is not Nowak's system. The problem is that the players haven't fully grasped that, and to the extent they still try to play Nowak's game things will go poorly.

Let me explain: Under Nowak the 3-5-2 was played as 3 defenders, 2 holding midfielders, two wingers roaming back and forth to various degrees around Gomez, and the Jamie withdrawn and Esky up top. Under Soehn, it is superficially the same, but practically different. The 3 defenders have only one holding midfielder in front of them, then a new line of four midfielders with Moreno coming back and Emilio up top. To oversimplify, it's a 3-1-4-2 as opposed to a 3-2-3-2. The biggest challenge is the way in which the ball is distributed. Under the Nowak system, you could play directly up the line and kick it in to Gomez, or play through either holding midfielder and run through the middle. Under Soehn, the distribution should not rely as heavily on the holding midfielders, and the play needs to reach the wings faster and usually not a direct aerial pass up the line. You can play either short passes to the wing player, who can send it back to the holding mid, or long aerial passes that switch the field to another midfielder, or have Gomez track back and kick the ball wide for an attack down the flank.

Given the number of frustrating turnovers in midfield, I think this is the area where we will see. Erpen is playing precisely as he did last year, which causes its own frustration (and I'll talk about that later). Boswell is under-performing in the way in which he lets players get by him, but I think he will remember how to step up and disrupt oncoming attackers. But the real problem has been the poor play of the passing. They haven't figured out how to play those aerial diagonal balls to the midfield on a consistent basis. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it is neatly picked off by the opposing midfield. Gomez isn't adjusting to his role either, insisting on playing as though he has two players directly behind him rather than one. Positionally, that's putting Carroll (or Simms) into a bind when the ball quickly comes the other way though the middle. If Gomez kicks the ball wide to DeRoux/Moose/Fred/Olsen/Gros (or whatever), then you have better cover (provided Erpen and Namoff remain positioned and aren't pushing too high.) And Carroll, when called on to distribute himself, is playing as though he has another holding mid around him when he doesn't. He's under more pressure in this system, and hasn't quite dealt with it. Carroll should be getting balls down the sides into space, but instead is either passing back to sending a short pass to Gomez (who is quickly marked).

To my mind, this can all be fixed. Now, the issue is that it may not seem the fastest way to fix it (as opposed to four in the back, or swapping Erpen back to the left behind Gros, or whatever). But this is Tom Soehn's team, and I think he deserves a little more time to experiment on making things happen. How much? Well, one more week should indicate if this system is salvageable and improving, or needs to be reexamined totally. I don't think the plan is the same. It's a new plan that falls into trouble when played like the old one.

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6 Comments:

At 20 April, 2007 18:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a way (albeit a painful way) it is good that the losses came quick and early. If through a few lucky bounces (or defenders keeping their feet) DCU had won or tied either or both games, there would not be such a laser focus on the weaknesses of the defence. The weak defence would still be there but the bandwagon generally wouldn't notice... As it is, lets hope this pain was like ripping a bandaid-- quick and effective. The season is young. There is time for DCU to dominate (and to put to a screetching halt the plethora of "the Red Bulls are the new power in the East" articles on Soccernet) The Crew await. Vamos United.
-K

 
At 21 April, 2007 11:32, Anonymous Goose said...

Nice to see that the Screaming Eagles are so willing to give up on the team and throw the current players under the bus.

Aaron, you're a douchebag.

 
At 22 April, 2007 09:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis, D. I haven't been following long enough (or closely enough) to see these subtle changes, but they make sense the way you put them out.

All I know is that I've seen these players perform. I've seen Perkins, Boz... yes, and even Erpen all be brilliant on the pitch. I can't imagine that they're suddenly the worst defense in the MLS.

The problem is either the system or, as you suggest, the players adapting to the system.

In any case, there's plenty of time for the turnaround, and I have no doubt that we'll start winning.

As a fan, I have to say that I support the players, not just the shirts they wear. I'd much rather see this situation fixed internally than, as some have suggested, immediately look for trades.

Heck, if DCU and NYRB swapped kits, we'd have a winning record. Would that make anyone happy?

rke

 
At 22 April, 2007 22:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After looking at the highlights of the RSL-Chivas game, may I add to the discussion that whatever problems Troy may be having, he's doing quite a bit better than Rimando. Yikes.
-K

 
At 23 April, 2007 14:12, Anonymous haveyouseenlucky said...

if you look at those goals, there’s no reason to believe the system is at fault. DC had players in the right positions for coverage in every situation, they just didn’t do their jobs

Again I've only seen the one game, but in the one goal from the last game that stands out very clearly in my memory someone (or two) on the back three was totally out of position. Either Namoff should have been further up, or Fred and that other guy (Boswell?) should have been back keeping the line.

I'll probably have a better informed opinion after this weeks game though.

 
At 23 April, 2007 20:16, Anonymous matt w said...

Thanks, D. This is why I read this blog.

And Goose, I don't think Aaron has ever claimed to be *the* voice of the SEs. I do think he's voicing the frustration of many fans, including SEs.

 

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