I can’t write a huge amount today. There are a lot of reasons, some of them professional, some of them having to with the savor of wormwood that has lingered in my mouth ever since the final whistle blew on Sunday. Maybe it’s for the best. It’s not as if some untoward event occurred, changing the character of the match in an unpredictable way. No, what happened in Seattle two days ago was a microcosm of the season in general. I’m going to wait to do the player ratings until later in the week, if only because I am strongly tempted to write reviews for a lot of the players including lines like, “This person should be tarred and feathered and sold on to FC Novosibirsk in the Russian sixth division.”
For now, I will content myself with a bit of tactical postmortem, beginning with the high line. I am reminded at this moment of the episode of the Simpsons in which one of the plot lines is Krusty the Clown’s gambling problem. At one point, his accountant says to him, “Gambling is the finest thing a person can do…IF he’s good at it.” The high line was the correct strategy, given the kinds of effects it should have wrought in midfield. It can be a very effective approach to defending IF it's done right. This does not mean that it should have been a license to run aimlessly around the pitch, or to let opposing attackers run in behind with such depressing regularity. Maybe what our defenders need is a visit from Fat Tony, just to give them some sort of impression of the stakes involved. They certainly don’t need a trip to clown college. No, that part of their collective avocation seems already to be well developed.
Partly it was a matter of personnel. I’ve been critical of Kosuke Kimura, perhaps less than he has merited given the overall quality of his play. It’s hard to be sure what one is going to get from him night in and night out. What I am sure of is that, irrespective of his inconsistent performances, he is a better option at right back than Lovel Palmer. If the early part of the season demonstrated anything it is that Palmer has some kind of aversion to getting close to opposing players. I don’t think that the problem is that he’s not fast enough. It simply seems to be a matter of his not having any idea where he’s supposed to be.
On the other side, another failed experiment from earlier in the season was in play on the left side of the pitch. There is a reason that RodWal has been riding the pine for so much of this season: he belongs there. Once again, you can look at Steven Smith and say that he has had an up and down season. He is, without a doubt, the best thing that we have going at left back. We have tried lots of carbon blobs out there, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t get any better for us than Smith.
The fact that both of the starting fullbacks were healthy enough to make the bench but did not start makes me suspicious. Was the theory that putting in less offensively minded fullbacks would help us to retain a more precise focus in defense? If so, it was a catastrophic failure. The idea that we would play a back line with three changes from that which normally plays in a match of this magnitude really beggars belief. Clearly, we were going to be without the services of Mosquera, but that seems like it would have been an argument for keeping the players who know each other together, at least to the greatest degree possible. What we got instead was a serious lack of organization that completely eviscerated the side, compromising both our ability to defend effective and any chance that we were going to be able to mount an offensive threat.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also threw Ricketts in there. Freshly returned from his shoulder injury, he was put in with a lineup that he had never seen in front of him. Looking at the game footage, it looks very much as if he had never met them before. One can’t really say that Ricketts was at fault for any of the goals, but there was serious disorganization in evidence throughout the match. I’m actually kind of surprised that we only gave up three.
One thing that is clear from this match, and which has in fact been perfectly obvious for some time, is that we need a significant upgrade in talent at the back. It’s not just that the guys who start are often not up to the task. It must also be admitted that the alternative is to try to execute Plan B with Plan C quality players. We also need a holding central midfielder who is actually mobile and physical enough to break down opposing attacks. With all due respect to Jewsbury, it is pretty clear that the back four that we currently have available is not the kind of group who can be left on their own to defend. As has so often happened, Seattle’s attack was given plenty of time and space to percolate in the region between the D and the center circle. This too was added to the stew of failures that beset us up in Sodo.
So now we have one match that matters. We have to win away to Vancouver. It’s as simple as that. We have one last chance to break the duck on the road. I wish I could say that I was optimistic about it. What militates against this is not just a lack of quality in terms of personnel, but also questionable decisions in terms of tactics. We’ve only got one more chance to get it right.