Tweed had a good writeup on the Vancouver match in his regular Good, Bad, and Ugly piece. While I agree with his sentiment of not throwing in the towel yet, I have to disagree at the level of importance that should be placed on this game. As I mentioned in my last piece, I feel that we must at least get 8 points this month to at least maintain a favorable spot in the playoff race and the conference standings. Obviously, more points would be better, but 2 wins and two draws, one against a tough Philly team, would be ok with me. We already have a draw from one of the matches I had figured us for a win in. The tell-tale symptoms of two troubling problems make this match a bigger deal than people are giving it credit for. The first is lack of finishing. Follow me after the break for analysis of this first problem area followed by a second concern that is flying under the radar.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we have a problem with lack of finishing. This is not a revelation to anyone, and most of the authors here a HTIOT have lamented that fact repeatedly. What will bring something new to the table is looking at the how and why of this lack of finishing. And the "how" part is more than firing a shot over an empty net. It's more than rolling a ball off the post when the keeper is beat easily. Could this be the players themselves? Are they just not good, deadly finishers (part of the "how" equation-players that aren't natural finishers can't be counted on for that production on a regular basis)? Was this why we were able to get Diego Chaves, Gaston Puerari, and Dominic Oduro seemingly so easy (Chaves and Puerari on the cheap)? I think it's a bit of both, actually.
Chaves and Puerari had good numbers when we signed them, but neither had eye boggling stats. Obviously, Chaves is more of your traditional striker than Puerari, but both have missed numerous golden opportunities this year. Some of these can be chalked up to a standout play by the keeper, bad luck, etc. But not EVERY chance can be excused so easily on a regular basis. I enjoy Chaves and Puerari and think they are an integral part of our team. I just don't think they have that "stick a nail through your heart" finishing ability. And that's not a condemnation of their overall abilities as a player by any means. I would still take them any day of the week. However, I think this is a problem that we will have to put up with throughout the season, as much as I hate to say it. They may not be true, no.9 type finishers.
Think about this. All season long, I have been telling myself that we are just having some bad luck, and that the law of averages will balance things out and we will start converting these chances. Well, the good news is that we continue to create great scoring chances, which was something that was sorely lacking last year. The bad news is that the story hasn't changed yet. Golden opportunities are being put high, wide, off the keeper, off Landon Donovan's big forehead. Pretty much everywhere but in the back of the net. And while a guy like Oduro was known to have that baggage when we got him, opportunities like that come back to bite us. At some point I have realized that the problem is not getting better, which would partially point to the players themselves. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
If we were getting these chances and still getting 1-2 goals per game from elsewhere, then it wouldn't sting so bad. When you factor in the equation that all of these draws and close losses could have been turned into 1 or 3 point gains by finishing wide open looks, you start to get the picture. I'm not asking for the world here, I am asking for professionals to start putting balls away that should be child's play to them. I know it's not a perfect world, and even open nets aren't hit 100% of the time, but something must be done about finishing. It's killing us right now. Thus I think the expectations of expert finishing from our front line on a consistent basis may be a bit out of line.
I think acquiring Cristian Nazarit is an attempt to help with this, especially our lack of offense on set pieces (corner kicks especially). But, that is a topic for my next article. This brings me to the second part of the argument, which should look at the coaching staff. What part do they play in all of this? Although the players are out on the field taking the shots, coaching between games goes a long way to affect what happens on the field during games. It can't simply be a case of our strikers getting nervous in a breakaway situation. They are seasoned professionals, so I don't buy the scared excuse. Thus I have concluded the second part of the problem falls somewhat on the coaching.
I have read in various comments after games (players and coaches), as they talk about working on finishing drills in practice. That's all fine and dandy, but practice is not like a real game. And I don't hold the coaching staff at fault for not being able to pack TP with 20,000 screaming fans during a practice (there is a bit more pressure to score in front of a large crowd than an empty training ground). It would seem to me that the lack of finishing in part results from mental lapses. Though we normally chastise the defense for lapses, clearly it is affecting our forwards too. A lot of these mental lapses do fall on the coaching staff. They may not be able to change how a player's mind works, but they should be able to affect how they control their emotions on the pitch.
Due to where I am geographically, I can't make Fire practices. I am sure they are working on breakaway attempts. I would also hope they are using smaller goals to practice with so in a game, with a regulation goal, it seems much bigger to shoot at. This would be akin to a baseball player weighting his bat on the on deck circle. While the actual effect of this is minimal, it's the mental aspect that is huge. And that's something that the coaching staff is missing in my opinion. Whether they need to do more of these drills, they need to find a way to foster the player's confidence to help them finish these chances.
Fortunately, I have found some info from a few different sources that paints a rather startling picture of Fire practices. Here's an example of what I am talking about. It has become common fact that CDLC is known for long and demanding practices. The fact that he should be observing scrimmages, rather than interrupting the flow of play to blow his top, does concern me. I know as a player that I always was a bit more uptight in practice and during games for a coach that didn't foster a good mental or physical aspects over the team as a whole. And given CDLC's penchant for having a dog house the size of Texas, I think he is fostering an atmosphere that combines and timid or even scared atmosphere. Combine that with the fact that he seems to be a coach that runs players ragged in practice, which obviously affects play in games, then it's even worse.
In the end, it's a mixture of both. Let's face it, the forwards we have are not cold blooded finishers. As hard as it is to watch these opportunities pass by, that's part of the game when you don't have a true no. 9 striker. We have guys that may not be used to being the top striker on their teams, and are now expected to be just that. Obviously, if you don't get many breakaways on a regular basis (like Sega), you are going to be found wanting at converting those chances. We can't change the skill level of the players we already have. What we can change is teaching those players how to effectively take those chances on a consistent basis when they are presented with them. Puerari, Chaves, and Oduro obviously have the talent to score, the trick is how to get them to convert more consistently. The solution to the puzzle lies not only in they types of players they are, but also in the mental aspect which has been lacking ever since CDLC took over in all aspects of the field. While I am not sure that switching coaches mid-season would have any advantages, if things don't turn around and soon, CDLC will have to go. Let's hope he figures it out, but his leash should be very short at this point.