I am hesistant to make the following points. What I am going to say here in some respects amounts to a prediction. The world is exceedingly complex, and attempts to predict the courses in which it will run are generally vain. At least mine are. I’ve only made one or two veritably correct predictions in the whole of my public expressions, although I will say that I correctly predicted German re-unification about three months before it happened. A fat lot of good it did me. At all events, I am reminded of the old adage about the blind pig and the acorn. But even worse, I’ve come to suspect that there is some sort of quantum entanglement between my predictions and events in the real world. Translation: it’s all my fault.
Having offered this caveat, I will say that I’m not convinced either that we need to go out and acquire more cover at center half, or that we could get value for money by doing so at this point. sunshine has pointed out the historical fragility of Mikael Sylvestre, and his point is not without merit, especially given that the surface on which he will be playing at least 50 percent of his matches is going to be artificial. He’s also not getting any younger. After him, the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of experienced defenders. AJB is young. Tucker-Gangnes is younger. Futty is more experienced, but there is some question about whether, or how well, he can work into our preferred system.
These are all problems that can’t be ignored. The question that remains is: how do we solve them? sunshine’s preferred answer, and I suspect that many of you share this feeling, is that we should try to bring in someone else. Who would you suggest? This is not the time of the season when the marketplace is rich with experienced central defenders, much less those whose foot skills make them appropriate to the demands of Porterball. That is a rare breed indeed, and I simply don’t see a lot of prospects on the horizon. Which is not to say that the team oughtn’t to look. In fact, if I were going to feel around for such a player, the first thing I would do would be to announce to the media that I was not looking for such a player, if for no other reason than to prevent the prices from inflating immediately. In any case, I am dubious that a player that fits the bill and can be had on appropriate terms is available. I would love to be proven wrong on this score.
So, where does that leave us? For the moment, we have a viable pairing in Silvestre and AJB. If it were up to me, I would be tempted to put Tucker-Gangnes third on the depth chart, simply because his foot skills and instincts are, as far as I can tell, superior to those with which Futty is equipped. In a pinch, there are other players who can be shifted back there, in the way that Alex Song was occasionally forced to do for Arsenal. I could see Jewsbury, or even Zemanski, chipping in in a pinch. You may scoff at this, but in my view they are viable choices, for two reasons. Both are mobile and physical enough to handle the position, at least for short periods of time. Moreover, and this is for me the most crucial factor, both can handle the ball in a way that would make them fit into the systemic needs of the team in terms of our propensity to play out of the back. Would they be ideal? I have no illusions that they would. But, on the other hand, they have been playing with the team and working with the rest of the squad for months and probably have a base level of understanding with their fellows that someone brought in from the outside would have to take time to develop.
The other side of the coin is that we need to be playing in such a way as to limit the exposure of our defense. The match with Houston was a perfect example of this. By holding possession for long stretches of the match, and with our fullbacks playing effectively, we were able to keep one of the better teams in the league from mounting significant pressure. Not coincidentally, this was the first match of the regular season during which we actually executed the things that we are meant to do in midfield and attack. If we can play our system effectively (and consistently) it will have the effect of deflecting pressure from our (admittedly weakened) central defense.
One thing that I would hope is precluded by our current circumstances is a return to the defensive posture that we have adopted on the road so far this season. At this point, I just don’t think that we have the personnel to do it, even if it was a good idea, which I also doubt. We are just entering one of the most challenging stretches of the season, with back to back fixtures with San Jose followed by a trip to visit Sporting KC. One bit of good news that has surfaced lately is that Diego Valeri should be available for selection for our home game against the Quakes on Sunday.
If you put a gun to my head, I suppose that I would say that we should be looking to bring in a center half. But it needs to be the right one, and we oughtn’t to piss away a bunch of money on someone who is not an improvement on what we can field currently. I regard the match with Houston as a model for the way forward. Shorn of one of our best defenders and the guy who was meant to be our playmaker, we went out and played a team game and made ourselves extremely hard to handle. The question needing to be answered in terms of our next match is: can we show a similar commitment to playing our game, to avoiding the tendency to worry about what other teams are going to do to us and to focus on what we are going to do to them? Our first win of the season illustrated that this is within the realm of possibility. It remains for us to make it real.