The honeymoon is over
June 2, 2015
Now, let's be clear: this season is far from a disaster. The team's current three-game winless streak and scoring woes are not irreversible, and the East is so weak that the current slump still has Metro in a supposedly respectable position. That being said, the signs are out there. What was a solid start from Jesse Marsch and company has quickly disintegrated. Unless adjustments are made, the season could be on the verge of collapsing. The honeymoon is over.
The "up-tempo, high pressure" mantra has been beaten to death by this organization ever since the Marsch takeover, and what do you know, it actually worked. Early in the season, that "up-tempo, high pressure" style caught other teams off guard, and Metro was able to score goals -- and win games -- by causing turnovers high upfield and unleashing on unsuspecting defenses. Lately, however? The opponents have been able to adjust. Be it smart coaches like Bruce Arena or novices like Jim Curtin, the formulas are out there: either quickly get the ball out of the back, preferably on the wings, leaving the high pressure midfield stranded, or pack it in, defend as a team, and wait for space created by the high pressure to open and present a counter-attack.
Now, Marsch is far from an idiot, so he clearly must see what is happening. So, as a non-idiot, he would need to adjust himself or the problems will continue to manifest. This doesn't mean getting away from "up-tempo, high pressure" for the entire match... but at least mixing it up from time to time. Heck, there is a reason no one successfully plays "up-tempo, high pressure" for long periods of time. Players just can't keep up with physical demands. We're not sure if Marsch sees his team as robots, but last we checked they are made of flesh and blood.
But problems go beyond Marsch's style of play. The team's roster isn't exactly constructed well, and the fault there lies on Ali Curtis. Now, we don't long for the days when Red Bull spent millions on douche headcases like Rafa Marquez, but how can we not miss smart money being spent on the likes of Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry: difference makers who can change the game with one touch. Clearly, this team is lacking one.
We're not here to moan Red Bull's refusal to pay for quality; we're here to point out the problems on the roster. Ever since Matt Miazga's expected departure for the Under-20 World Cup, central defense has been a sieve. Karl Ouimette, an expansion team castoff, is a sub-replacement level player at best. Ronald Zubar, signed despite consistent injury problems, is consistently injured. And let's not discuss Roy Miller's only appearance in the center of the backline.
The problems lie in other areas of the field as well. With all of Sacha Kljestan's qualities, he is asked to do too much in the current lineup. This is not a man who can run the team on his own. Mike Grella is shoehorned by Marsch to be the left wing. While he has scored a couple of goals, and has had flashes of exciting play, he doesn't seem like a player one can rely on. Watch Grella carefully: 19 out of 20 times, he makes the wrong decision with the ball. Oh sure, that 20th time can produce something beneficial, but it comes too rarely. Most attack that goes through Grella's left flank either runs into defenders or is sent backwards because he is not a left midfielder. He is a forward.
And on a team that desperately needs forwards, that is. Bradley Wright-Phillips, playing as a lone man up top, cannot do it all by himself. Playing against Marsch's system, teams key in on the single attacker, swarming BWP every chance he gets the ball. When no help arrives, the attack is thwarted. We've seen that time and again.
The team's lack of depth is also incredibly problematic. Last week, when Seattle was down, Sigi Schmid made three substitutions that changed the game. Marsch, predictably, responded by putting on Dane Richards and Anatole Abang.
We love Richards. We will never forget what he did for this team. But the Richards we see today is far from the player we saw in his first stint. Or, perhaps, he is exactly the player we saw in his first stint, once you strip out all the positive aspects. Running into defenders, sending pointless crosses, taking desperate shots... There is a good player in there somewhere, but we haven't seen him yet.
Abang? Oh, sure, this is a player who is doing quite well in USL, but at this point, he does not belong on the MLS field. If Marsch is counting on him to score some goals, we do not see where that logic is coming from. The game moves too fast for Abang. His spacial awareness is just not there. Sure, there is a lot of potential there, but that potential will take time to develop. Right now, counting on Abang to provide a spark of the bench is akin of putting your team down a man. The problem here is that beyond Richards and Abang there is not much, and that is clearly on Curtis. In what world does it make sense to go into the season with just three forwards on the roster, one of them an 18-year-old rookie, another stranded in midfield?
That being said, there is still time. There is still time for Marsch to take a page from mentor Bob Bradley's playbook. Bradley always knew how to adjust, how to put players in position to succeed. There is still time for Curtis to use his supposed knowledge of MLS's idiosyncrasies to come up with roster moves. There is still time to adapt.
And if there are no changes? Then Marsch and Curtis will face the fate of all those who fail to adapt:
They die off.