After two losses in three games, we’ve learned some things about ourselves. Not only can we improve, but we really must improve in a few key areas.
1. Get the defensive midfielder involved in play
Whether it’s been Cole Grossman or Ned Grabavoy, we’ve failed to really get our midfield ticking over without Kyle Beckerman. Interestingly, this is not a problem we experienced when his backup was Yordany Alvarez. That’s not necessarily down to the player, but to the general approach of the team.
We have notably taken a less defensive stance in the midfield under Jeff Cassar; this leads to the anchor in the diamond being given the ball in deeper positions less frequently. This hasn’t been an issue with Beckerman because he is constantly making himself available for a simple pass, whether that’s deeper of further up. He’s always open to an easy pass from the center backs, and he moves into positions further up as play progresses.
If we’re to be successful, we have to get our defensive midfielder more involved in build-up play and not just as a safe outlet at the back we don’t use getting forward.
2. Defending the counter attack
When we push further in the midfield — as we’ve committed to this season — we render ourselves even more vulnerable to counter attacks than ever, but that hasn’t really been obviated with the use of a more conservative defensive midfielder.
We’ve been beat on the counter in our last two losses, and while that’s certainly something we open ourselves up to, it’s not like it’s a new problem. Since the departure of Jamison Olave after 2011, we’ve lacked a player with the raw speed to get back for some good old-fashioned last-ditch defending.
As a result, our defenders must be extraordinarily aware of the challenges they’re facing, and sometimes, they’re just not equipped to deal. With Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler as our central pairing, we’re never going to beat the fastest players in the league in these moments.
I don’t know that there’s an easy solution. This is why other people are paid to think about the game, right? Maybe it’s a no-win scenario.
3. Maintain possession late in matches
I can’t really figure out why we’ve so often ceded possession in matches. Is it a strategic alteration to the way we approach the game? Is it a purposeful change in approach?
Maybe, but if we can simply make better decisions late on, we’d find ourselves in better scenarios late on. This has been a consistent problem with the team over the last few years, and while it’s not something worth panicking about, it is something to ask ourselves. It does do something to sooth the notion that we’re worse in them this year, though — how many times did we go up and give the ball away cheaply last year, too?
It’s why I dispute the fact that we bunker late in games. I don’t think it’s necessarily that purposeful: It’s that we too often give up possession when we could easily retain it. This is something we improve upon every year, and I’m certain it’s something we will improve upon this year.