The great American philosophers collectively known as Three Dog Night once mused that one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. It's an observation that rings true on many levels. The number one brings with it the heaviest weights of responsibility, fear and expectation. There is no soldier who would prefer to battle alone nor a parent who would want to raise children without support. Even the hardest of souls can crack under the relentless isolation of solitary confinement. Thoughts of never finding a soul mate to share life's experiences with has brought many eyes to tears.
Welcome to the world of Jeff Larentowicz and Juan Luis Anangono.
New coach Frank Yallop has taken away their friends, replacing their safety blanket that came with a 4-4-2 with an unforgiving 4-1-4-1. Larentowicz and Anangono are stuck on their respective islands. If they want a friend, they'll have to pick up the soccer ball, draw a smiley face on it, and start talking to Wilson 2.0.
The challenge for them is far more mental than physical. It will not be easy for Anangono to remain disciplined and focused when he sees Mike Magee freely roaming between zones, dancing in and out of Anagono's island as he pleases. It's a freedom most players want, but Anangono does not have.
The question now is do Anangono and Larentowicz have the mental makeup for those positions and if so how long will it take to adjust to their lonely roles?
Sunday gave us the first real glimpse into how overwhelming those positions can be for players not ready to embrace the isolation like a Buddhist monk. Seemingly highly aware of the island that was his alone to operate, Larentowicz seemed to play with a nervous energy.
A look at his distribution is disheartening. The large marjority of his completed passes were either sideways or backwards and nearly all of his attempts forward were stifled. When you combine the statistics with the eye test, Larentowicz seemed to play with the confusion/nervousness of a man in a new role while still reverting back to the same habits that made him an ineffective holding midfielder at times in last year's 4-4-2.
Back passing will always be necessary at times but lateral passing should be very limited in his new role. Theoretically, there should be no one on his plane to bail him out and move the ball to the next level for him. Larentowicz's position is extremely demanding as pointed out by Sean Spence. It requires patience and vision. As he feels the pressure of triggering a counter-attack, he must remain steady.
The isolation seemed to do the exact opposite for Anangono where the weight of the responsibility dragged him down. Despite his efforts, the prospect of winning the ball and needing to take on multiple defenders seemed to defeat Anangono before he even started his attempt. Passes missed him and he missed first touches.
Unlike Larentowicz who must use his isolation to play inconspicuously, Anagono must play as the king of his island. The "striker's confidence" must be even stronger in Anangono's role. We saw a glimmer of what is needed when Quincey Amrikwa took his defender straight on, made the turn and tucked in a goal.
He drove to the box with no thought that being denied was possible.
It's a long season and both men have time to grow in the roles. Considering it was the first game, everything from nerves to lack of fitness could be a valid reason for struggles. But the reality is prolonged struggles in those two roles will bring about clamoring for change. The thoughts of what could have been with Arevalo Rios will chase Larentowicz as underwhelming performances are prolonged just as the calls will grow louder for Amerikwa if Anangono is broken by his isolation up top.
By nature, they stick out in their roles and that opens the window a little more for criticism. It's always easier to take shots when there is no crowd for the target to hide in. Time will tell if they have the ability to deal with the inherent adversity of their positions on field and the inevitable criticism that comes with their position off field.
Will these two be as sad as one, the loneliest number? They will have a chance to test their mettle Sunday when they face the stacked Portland Timbers, who will surely bring adversity in waves.