|Typical scene from the first minute, eight men in the box.|
I'll start by recalling some things from my preview of the game, only a blind person could be forgiven for not studying the tapes on Jacksonville, we know they are a decent attacking team and we knew they would most likely play 4-3-3 and be very direct. So I expected us to make maybe one change from our normal line up to accommodate a 4-5-1, begin with a shape that can soak up pressure from a 4-3-3 and look to hit them on the break. What we did was so far removed from that I don't even know how to explain the logic of it, only our coaches could do that. We played a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond comprising of two defensive midfielders. The effects were noticeable right away, scenes such as the one in the screenshot I have added were typical throughout most of the game and almost every minute of the first half. Literally within less than a minute after kickoff our whole midfield set up was left backing up the defense and our forwards were left watching the game. Now with the players we did start with, we could have set that up as a 4-2-3-1 with Brown playing the CAM position and told the team to sit a little deeper than normal and leave one forward up top with a free role, still would have been an odd choice of lineup but at least the formation would have been better suited to diffusing Jacksonville's attack. I am totally confused at why Mares and Stojkov did not start, both have exactly the type of speed and aggression that would have made things much harder for Armada. I love Pineda as a player, and I saw him train alone before the Carolina game, he was running freely and comfortably around the field at pace so no doubt the extra two weeks helped him to a full recovery, but still you're lacking match time coming out of an injury, and the normal thing to do would be to give him a half hour in the second half. If he had to start I would have started him in place of Melgares on the left who is still trying to find his way in this team, I think had we started Pineda (left) Stojkov (right) Mares (CAM) and Ring and Pena behind Mares and in front of the back line with Brown up top the first half would have been a lot different and we could possibly have had it in us to pinch a goal. I know it's all hindsight and ifs and buts, but it is obvious now our starting lineup had no actual logic or effectiveness to it and was as close to suicidal as you can get. We cut our own throats before we even started.
LONG BALL!!! If you ask me "what is long ball"? It's not the keeper booting the ball up the park, neither is it a defensive clearance under pressure. Long ball is when a player has the ball and has several options or even one other option on what to do with it, such as pass left, pass right, pass forward or pass back, but instead lumps the ball up the park in the general direction of another player (or not as it seems sometimes) in the hope that they can somehow manage to get it under control. As most people know this is not easy, when the ball is in the air its in contention for anyone, it also gives time for the opposition to pressure any player who may be best placed to receive it, in effect it creates a 50/50 situation, it very rarely works. In the first half alone, Indy tried this 12 times and only managed to retain possession two times. I am not a big math head but I would say that's about an 83% failure rate or something close to that. Over the course of the whole game we did this 18 times and only retained possession on 4 occasions, which is around 78% failure. Honestly though at some point in the second half I stopped counting properly, there were tears in my eyes and my head was sore from banging it off the desk. it took us approximately 10 seconds to play our first long ball. In stark contrast, Jacksonville played almost all of their game on the ground (yes Indy, apparently Armada have proved this is something that can in fact be done) but they did attempt 6 long balls in the whole game and retained possession from three of them, In the first half they only tried this twice and only lost out once, the first was too hopeful and sailed passed the end of the field, the second found Keita who forced a corner from it. I mean CAN YOU SEE WHAT THE PROBLEM IS WITH LONG BALL, stats don't lie, not only is it a very poor and antiquated method of play, but we can't even do that well?? PLEASE STOP! If you don't have a pass forward, pass it sideways or pass it back, retain possession, you can't make the other side have to work for the ball by giving it to them. I can't tell if we are actually applying it as a tactic, or our players are just taking easy options and need help? Either reason is a serious problem.
I am not going to break down every part of the game, because we had no real effective formation, we pretty much struggled to get the ball at any time in the whole first half. We played against 10 men for 15 minutes after Keita went off with a head knock, with an extra man we did nothing to capitalize except string some passes together at the back without achieving anything going forward. We did not get a shot on goal until the 35th minute of the game when Wojcik's low drive was stopped by Gallardo at the right upright. Armada had 9 corners in the first half, I am am still dumbfounded they only found the net once in this game. When Keita went off with a head knock in the 12th minute and had treatment on the field, we had an opportunity for players to receive instruction at the side, not sure if anything was conveyed to them, but to the casual observer we were clearly getting overrun, we should have changed the formation then but we didn't, the onslaught continued for the rest of the half. It was brutal!
At half time we made a change and brought Mares in for Malgares, we pushed Brown out to the left mid and Mares in the middle and switch to a 4-5-1 formation, unfortunately though Armada scored in the 46th minute of the game and put us on the back foot which was already back somewhere one state over. The formation change obviously caused disruption to Armada's attacking 4-3-3 as we clearly got much more time on the ball in the second half, which begs the question why we did not start the game this way. Despite the change and bringing on another two pairs of fresh legs in Rugg and Smart for Wojcik and Pineda we never really troubled Jacksonville much though, probably the best period of sustained attacking pressure came around the 86th minute of the game, but it was mostly a series of scrambles with nothing coming out of it. Jacksonville should have gone 2-0 up on 65' but Keita couldn't connect right in front of goal, and similarly on 91' they should have been 3-0 both times our defense was ripped open, I am sure they are happy with three points, but they must be kicking themselves that they did not inflict more damage on us. So yeah anyway, we gained slightly more ground in the second half than the first by playing a better formation, but over the course of the game we were a complete and utter mess. There is no polite way to say it. I can't completely blame the team on this one either, this has to go back on the coaches, you set up the team pick that formation, tinker too much with the starting lineup and then making running repairs throughout the game that come too late, honestly if I didn't know any better I would think we didn't even bother watching a JAX game up until now or do any research on this team at all.
So for the positives, of which there are few, I was very pleased with Keith Cardona, he appeared comfortable and confident and not over awed by the situation, he showed good awareness and positioning and the ability to stop shots and cover the ball well. It's good to know this, we don't get to see our back up keepers at all outside of preseason, but Cardona looks like a player who can easily fit in at this level. I thought Brian Brown did very well, despite not getting much service he played a good game and would come back and make something himself when we couldn't get the ball up to front, he also defended and hustled throughout the game regardless of where he was asked to play. Brad Ring also played well and whenever he had the ball he did not waste it, he made sensible passes and passed back if he had too, if we want to build a possession team or game we need players like that, ones that are not wasteful with the ball and are willing to dig something out and create something, Brown and Ring did all of that, and for his time on the field Wojcik also showed the same spirit.
I think it would be a good idea for all the coaches and all of the players to sit down and watch the whole game together and give honest feedback to each other on how to avoid situations like this and Carolina again. I don't want to bash on the team, but when you see stuff like this yes maybe you should say less than you think, but it's a concern for everyone and it's not easy to ignore it. We admitted to everyone last year we underestimated this league and its level of competitiveness. We shipped some players out and shipped some players in, but are we doing things any differently? Our preseason was not good in my opinion, we did not test ourselves enough and did not have our full squad together early enough, I think that's beginning to show. We are a hairball away from being in the same situation we were in last year, a situation where we will have to look at bringing more players in over the year to try and turn around a desperate situation, patching holes only covers up problems, and if we start shipping players in to try and win it means we don't have the coaching ability to mend what we already have, and it's going to cost us money. Some may disagree but that is what I am starting to see. Look to Jacksonville, they have just started but have assembled a squad from nothing that can keep the ball on the ground and play attractive attacking and successful football right from the get go, they are now sitting on 9pts by winning all three of their home games in their inaugural season, if they can do that why can't we, what are they doing different than we are?
Unless we stop playing like this and everyone involved players and coaches alike can look inward it's going to get real ugly real quick. I truly hope that's not the case and we bounce back next week!
Bloody Shambles MVP: Giving it to Brian Brown this week, despite having to play in a game where we found it very hard to get the ball at all he worked hard everywhere on the field, honorable mentions to Keith Cardona, Brad Ring, Wojcik and Norales.