There are three questions we should be asking ourselves after that profligate loss to San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. They are simple questions, but it is not a simple problem.
1. What happened?
We not only surrendered a two-goal lead against the MLS side most likely to score late-on; we let them take opportunities again and again and again. From the 70th minute forward, we didn't look like a side confident with our ability to control the ball under pressure. It was a strange look for us: Instead of attempting to calm play, we simply booted away every ball that came at us.
We can catch a glimpse of that with a cursory look at some statistics. From minute 70 to minute 95, we had 19 clearances, conceded two goals, and made difficult work for our forwards by flinging long passes forward with reckless abandon.
2. What caused that to happen?
It's easy to look at San Jose's pressure from that point forward. It clearly played a role in our concession, because it saw us losing possession frequently, both by design - we were happy to simply have the ball far away from our goal at times - and by an inability to hold up against the forced pressure.
But we should look a little further. We're going by the 70th minute mark because we saw two substitutions at that moment. One was planned - or at least wasn't forced: Cole Grossman came on for 45th minute goalscorer Luke Mulholland, which was a fine move. Mulholland had a limited impact in the second half and became isolated from Tony Beltran, and Grossman is a more defensively oriented player.
The second move was the one that killed us. Aaron Maund exited for Carlos Salcedo by way of injury, putting our defense in a dangerous lurch from which we never recovered. The problem wasn't the player who exited nor the player who entered - Salcedo is a capable defender, and I am convinced he will show us that this season. Instead, the issue was that the double substitution broke any semblance of rhythm to our play.
While it is difficult to say definitively without having been there, it did seem on the broadcast that Maund went down and remained down after the first substitution had already been made. This was rather unlucky, and it sent us immediately into a position where we were on the back foot.
But we shouldn't blame our performance on luck: We are more than capable of escaping that lurch we were sent into. It's simply a matter of actually doing it, which brings us to our final question.
3. How can we adjust to ensure that doesn't happen?
It's difficult to adjust to forced changes. Fitness has been a concern in these first two matches, though, and we will be wondering why. Is it simply a case of early injuries before full fitness has been attained, or is it something more systemic? We can't answer this without further information, which should lead us to accept that early fitness concerns are to blame. If we hadn't subbed out Aaron Maund, we could have retained our defensive approach. We weren't allowed an opportunity to do that.
Further, instead of clearing the ball down-field, there were opportunities for us to play smartly out of the back, or to clear the ball for a throw instead of giving San Jose another quick opportunity to swing the ball back into the box. These passes led to frequent shots, which helps explain our conceding nine shots and two goals.