Although there is disappointment with AC St. Louis’ 3-0 last night in Portland, there are positive things to take from the match. Because the game was televised on Fox Sports Northwest, I was able to TIVO the game and watch it again in the morning, when it’s all less emotional. Here are the positive and negative trends I’ve noticed since the season started.
Beginning with the negative, the biggest problem with the team currently is gifting too many goals to their opponents. All three Portland goals were the result of defensive breakdowns,and on occasion there is an obvious lack of communication between the backline and the goalkeeper. Panic is the result. I don’t want to be too critical, because its early in the season and we have a real lack of professional experience on the backline. Zach Bauer, Dillon Barna, Mark Bloom, John Lesko and Anthony O’Garro have all made starts on the backline since the season opened, and none have played professionally before. I think all have talent, but as a group (along with inexperinced goalkeeper Alec Dufty) the lack of experience and playing time together is telling. Long balls down the middle against our backline can be scary. Soccer pundit and World Football Daily host Steven Cohen often expounds on how critical it is to a team’s success to have a consistent back five (he includes the goalkeeper with the defenders) that play together and know each other instinctively. AC St. Louis isn’t at that point yet, and until we are, I fear that the trend of gifting goals is going to continue.
Secondly, AC St. Louis gives up way too much possession, especially on goal kicks and throw-ins. I’m not faulting Alec Dufty, who’s goalkicks and punts are accurate and fly a long way, but AC St. Louis has a lot of difficulty with the ball in the air on the other team’s side of the field. Frequently, a Portland defender was able to leap over Alex Titton and head the ball away. I much preferred the times that Dufty threw the ball out to the wings….he has a rifle arm and his throws were accurate. Also, throw-ins need work. Sometimes its good to take a chance on a throw in to create an offensive chance, but too often the team’s throw-ins went straight to Portland players or were so awkward that the intended AC St. Louis player couldn’t handle the ball cleanly and gave it away. Maintaining possession on throw-ins should be an easy thing to fix.
Finally, before we get to the positives, AC St. Louis needs to shoot the ball more. The opposing goalkeepers in our three league games have basically had the night off. Defenses are clogging the middle against AC St. Louis, because they aren’t getting the ball out wide often enough, and as a result, its been tough to get off many decent shots. If AC St. Louis can get the ball out wide more often and switch possession across the field more, defenders won’t be able to stack up the middle of their final third of the field and more shots (and more goals) will result.
Onto the positives, and there were many, despite the score. Starting at the back, I think goalkeeper Alec Dufty played very well. His only mistake was a short, awkward throw to Dillon Barna deep in his own territory. Barna had difficulty handling the ball, got a kick away, but it went straight to a Portland player, and a few passes later, OJ Obatola knocked the ball in the net for Portland’s third goal. Dufty made an exceptional save a few minutes earlier, however, and his distribution was good, though most effective when he threw the ball instead of kicking it. Although our backline had some panicky moments, there were also some good headed balls by Dillon Barna, some effective work up the left side by Mark Bloom, and some nice interceptions by Tim Velten and Christian Nzinga. Manuel Kante was all over the field, and had a good run nullified by Portland’s shut-down defending. Elvir Kafedzic always helps out defensively and is a leader, and Jack Traynor is a presence throughout the game. Alex Titton demonstrated that he fights for possession, and although often outleaped, he had some good ideas that didn’t quite work, but showed vision and talent.
I like the team’s fighting attitude. Jeff Cosgriff and Hagop Chirishian both showed determination, continuing to fight for the ball after falling to the turf, and Chirishian’s scrappiness led to AC St. Louis’ best scoring chance, when Anthony O’Garro unleashed another wicked shot that bounced off the woodwork. Luke Kreamalmeyer had some nice runs, particularly one down the left side near the end of the game, but couldn’t complete a finishing pass. Ryan Moore and Troy Cole hustled. This team works hard, and we should be proud of that.
Finally, I want to give Coach Claude Anelka credit. After the team gave up an opening minute goal, they didn’t go into a shell but instead played steadier until the end of the half defensive mishap resulting in Ryan Pore’s second goal. In every game, AC St. Louis is going up against vastly more experienced teams, and except for those panicky defensive lapses, the team holds its own for long stretches of the game. Also, I was glad to see the coach use his substitutes freely, which is so crucial in this league with games often coming in bunches. Speaking of which, AC St. Louis takes on Vancouver at Swangard Stadium Saturday afternoon at 6:00 pm local time here.