Greetings from Arizona! I was at the game last night and wanted to share some of my observations as well as a few quotes and notes from the night.
Caleb Porter on the overall fight the team gave tonight:
Tonight, the biggest positive was we were able to taste what it feels like to play in a game with two rivals. Teams that don't want to lose. Teams that don't necessarily like each other. And for some of our new guys, they were able to see that there are players on other teams that are very good players. And they were able to match up against these guys and they were able to see also that these players, they don't like us.
The big thing Porter took away from the match was Paparatto and Fernandez getting experience with some of the better individual talent in the league. Paparatto with Martins and Fernandez with Alonso.
It raises their awareness of these teams. It raises their awareness of how difficult it's going to be to win games. That they have to be at their best. Paparatto will have to be at his best, even though he is a very good center half and he has gone against very good attackers. He will have to be at his best to succeed. Gaston is a very good player. He has scored a lot of goals, he is creative, but he is going to have to be at his best against some of these teams and players. The thing I was most proud of is; they were up for it.
There is only one thing to say about our attack. Potential. Gaston Fernandez is showing to be another great pick and should be as advertised. He just needs a few more weeks to build more chemistry with the players. The only real question is what will Porter do to get both Fernandez and Valeri on the field at the same time. Since the only thing we've seen of Fernandez so far is his creative flair playing in Valeri's spot. I think one of the keys is going to learn how he envisions playing all of these talented attacking players. It is safe to say that with Fernandez and Nagbe we will experience a lot of fouls. Last season Nagbe had a target on his back because the only way you couldn't let him dribble past you was to foul him, and now it appears the same tactics will need to be used on Fernandez. With new targets it will definitely be interesting to see if some of the defensive pressure that Nagbe and Valeri got a lot of last season is mitigated with the addition of Fernandez, and I would say also with the full integration of Urruti now.
On the defense, Caleb Porter had this to say last night:
I thought our defending was very good today. The back four in the first two periods were very tight. The relationship between Kah and Paparatto already [coming together]. I thought Paparatto was very good tonight [Kah, Jack, and Powell as well when he came on]. The back fours looked really organized tonight. So that was a real positive for me. We'll try to win every game, but if you can't win you better not lose. And if you can't find the goal, at the very least we need to get the clean sheet and make sure that we get the point.
Now there isn't a whole lot to say about the formation and tactics Porter employed last night. It was his standard 4-2-3-1 so we all knew what to expect out of the back four. And anytime a defense gets a clean sheet, it is usually a good night. They did the job asked of them. And especially in a physical game like this, this preseason match gives them valuable experience against a team that really doesn't like us, and preseason or not, didn't want to lose to us. Kah and Paparatto did well last night, not as good as I think they can be, but don't forget it is only the preseason. The foundation is there so with more time and more chemistry built between our defenders I think our defense is going to be better than what we had last season.
And specifically regarding Paparatto, Caleb Porter said:
They already look like they fit in. Paparatto, he is a center half. He doesn't need to change a thing. You know it's interesting, we got him and everyone is talking about being on the ball and stuff. But we picked him because we knew he was a good defender. For me that is what I want, first and foremost. A guy that is going to be focused for 90 minutes. A guy that is going to read the game. A guy that is not going to take a play off. A guy that is going to look brave and be assertive. And when the game got chippy his chest stuck out and he was up for it. He wasn't going to back down. That is what I want out of my centerback. I want a guy that is a man. And in the end I thought he looked very mature tonight. And on the ball he will find his moments, but if he has to kick the ball in the stands he will kick the ball in the stands. At the end of the day he wants to win and he wants to get a clean sheet. That's it. That's what I want out of my center halves.
We have already seen evidence that perhaps Paparatto is a more traditional centerback than a ball playing centerback. So it seems that Porter wants experience and maturity on the backline. During most of the evening any iteration of the back four on the field tended to play calmly. The idea going forward may not necessarily be for our centerbacks to be playing like midfielders, but to always be calm, mature, and do their job: defend.
One thing that was noticable last night was during the first two periods a lot of attacks went down the right flank. So when Powell was brought on, this played to his strengths. There was at least two times I noticed Powell go so far forward and centrally that he could almost take a shot from just inside the top of the box. Now depending on the strategy Porter uses, this may not be a bad thing. We know that the back four is usually always a back 3 in attack so the backline always needs to be aware of which fullback is bombing forward so they can shift the line to compensate. And with what Porter has described as calm, mature centerbacks, I think it will be safe to say we will see more Powell on the field this season.
Consider this about Powell: He is only 19 years old, Yedlin is 20. If Powell were given an extra year to develop to be the same age as Yedlin, which would be better?