I don't have anywhere near the tactical acumen of Mark or Sean, so I will leave that side of things to their upcoming pieces early this next week. James also had his good recap posted up Saturday night in case you missed it. I will admit I was pretty upset the other night, as most of us were. It's one thing to lose the first 2 games in a battle. But to be blown out of one and put an anemic offensive effort in both games cannot continue. The fans know this, and I am sure Frank and the players do too. After a bit of reflection 36 hours later, I wanted to look back at a few things that I am taking out of our most recent loss loss.
The first thing to mention is that I am pretty worried about Sherjill MacDonald right now. There is word spreading around that he is not nearly fit and that is affecting his play. After watching him these past 2 weeks, I 100% agree with that. And that is a very troubling sign. I am not expecting any player to have the endurance of Superman at this early point in the season. It is however pretty clear that Mackie is nowhere near the shape he was in last year.
While it's always dangerous to make assumptions without hard proof, it's pretty disappointing that he didn't prepare as properly as he could have this off-season. Sherjill was able to play quite a bit in the pre-season as well. I was assuming that bringing in Maicon Santos would give him an extra kick start as it seemed to do for the midfield players. So far, my assumption is wrong. Santos looks like the hungry one wanting that forward spot, and Frank must have seen that too by giving him the start last week and a full half of play last night. The fact that MacDonald didn't keep his fitness up to the proper level over the off-season is very irksome.
While most of us are focusing on Chris Rolfe as a leading scorer (and rightfully we should), Mackie being in good form is essential to a successful season. Having that reliable, tough, tank of a holdup striker is a valuable ace in the pocket so to speak. MacDonald showed his value in this role at times last year. It was my hope that he would progress even more with a full pre-season under his belt. Unfortunately, it would seem the opposite is true. At this point, he is in great danger of losing his starting spot, and right now I can't make an argument against that.
Take last night for example. While finishing chances is never an exact science, Mackie missed not one, but two wide open chances. It was shades of last season with Oduro and Flaco at times. For a team with a lot of question marks in the finishing department as it is, this is the last thing we wanted to see. To me it appeared he just didn't have any confidence. This was especially evident with the look he had right in front of goal the 1st half. Rather than staying upright and leaning over the ball to create a powerful, driving shot to score, he leaned too far enough. When you do this, it creates a high elevated ball. And that's just what happened as Mackie skied it over goal into the crowd. These are the types of chances that have to be put away. Failure to do so could cost him his starting job, as well as helping cost the Men in Red a victory last night.
Frank Klopas even elaborated on his form, as he said this after the game:
"We took out MacDonald because we needed more from him. We needed him to hold the ball better. I think at times when we tried to find him he was late with his movement. He had a couple chances he couldn’t put away. I knew going against the wind Maicon is bigger and stronger. We could use him to hold up the ball."
As you can see, his lack of form is concerning to the gaffer too, and that's not a good thing. One other thing to mention here- I saw the wind quoted a couple of times in the post game notes. This makes me somewhat mad. Was it windy? Yes. Did we lose because of the wind? No. Sometimes I would like Frank to be a bit more brash and tell it like it is. The fact is we didn't play well again. Yes, we did have a better first half with some chances. But as they say, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. At some point you have to quit trying to always paint a rosy picture and simply face the facts sometimes and not make excuses. And those facts are that we haven't been good enough this year. And it's not even close. Fortunately it's only 2 games into the season rather than the last 5 games as we saw last fall.
Until Mackie steps up and shows some improved play, I think the correct call is to play Maicon. He came in last night and played pretty well, all things considered. He certainly showed desire and a touch that is missing with MacDonald right now. Not a pretty sight to behold for a team with finishing issues. Cries for a striker will get louder in the summer if this trend continues.
In midfield, the story was a little better but the picture is still bleak compared to our expectations. Larentowicz was pretty decent. We know what he brings and I am not worried about him. Nyarko was his normal active self but couldn't quite put it all together Saturday night. The biggest improvement for me was Dilly Duka, and his form was promising. Unlike the season opener, he was involved and making things happen, which is exactly what we need from him. And his laser shot nearly found the back of the net in the first half. He lived up to some of the lofty expectations that have been attached to his name. Here's to hoping that continues.
The biggest puzzle for me is Joel Lindpere. Despite being in the center of the pitch for the most part, he just hasn't been able to put it together yet. I am not worried because, like Larentowicz, we all know what he can do. I am sure he will round into form as he gets more time under his belt and gains familiarity with the offense. The problem is what do we do in the meantime. If he is healthy he obviously is starting, so he needs to pick it up sooner rather than later. He has had some uncharacteristic bad passes and touches in the first 2 games and just hasn't settled in yet. One of the more encouraging things I took out of Saturday night's game is the improved midfield play. As a collective we are still no where near where we need to be, but we did improve somewhat.
On the back line, I had been calling for Frank to swap Jalil Anibaba and Steve Kinney. That's exactly what he did and the results were promising. Apart from the defense falling asleep and forgetting to mark Bengtson (Berry's man). While New England's offense isn't on the level of the Galaxy, the back line was definitely more settled apart from that one fatal gaffe. You can tell that Austin and Jalil were more familiar beside each other, and Austin echoed these sentiments post game:
"We’re getting more comfortable. I think sliding in Jalil into the center back spot, there’s a little bit more familiarity between me and him. We played a lot of games last season so it’s getting better but we would like to have Arne back."
I would like to see this same back line until Arne is back. Once Logan is healthy, I would be fine with him slotting in for Kinney at RB. While the best thing for Steve is to get playing time to re-acclimate himself to full speed MLS play, right now is not the time to do it. Every day in practice helps him get back on his feet. I just don't think he is quite ready yet. Fully healthy, I would pick him over Pause at RB. Right now I want Pause in there.
All in all, despite the disappointment of last night, I don't think it's a true crisis yet. Based off our pre-season form 2013 has been a great disappointment so far. But, it's still early and things will get better as they players gel together. Now, if we are still looking like this in a month, then we worry. I know the team won't quit and they are working hard on righting the ship. While it's hard to do, just be patient. The Men in Red will bounce back.