What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
I hope we've all recovered after that rather miserable week of footballing action. Have we? Well, good. I spent last night re-watching our 3-0 thrashing of Chivas USA to slightly boost my spirits, which, I confess, had some of the intended effect. Now, if I can only just forget about those two matches afterward, I'll be sitting pretty.
That would be a little silly, though. Ignoring the issue accomplishes nothing and just makes me look a bit of a loon. (No offense is meant to the bird. It is a type of bird, right?) The question, then, becomes this: How do we solve the problems we experienced against San Jose and Los Angeles? First, let's run down what problems from which we suffered.
1) A lack of defensive coordination between all members of the squad. This seems likely, given our concession of a goal from two fairly easy set pieces, both owing rather to mistakes than to any sort of spectacularity about the plays themselves.
2) A lack of offensive bite at times, partially owing to first-goal concession. When you concede the first goal, it makes coming back rather difficult when the side faced is rather good at defending with 10 behind the ball.
3) A slight overconfidence or mental brittleness which has seen our side drop valuable points in seemingly easy positions. This one ignores the quality of the opponents a bit, but it's certainly one we need to look at rather closely.
Are those accurate? Perhaps I'm missing something tactically (I don't think so) or something owing to a lack of ability (that's definitely not it) — but supposing I'm not missing anything, that would be rather accurate. So how do we solve it, then?
I mean, the easy answer is "work." And lots of it. We've got to be aware defensively at all times. Not for 70 minutes, not for 80 minutes, not even for 89 minutes. 90 minutes is the very least we should be demanding of our defenders. We have a group that's experienced a lot together — including winning the MLS Cup in 2009 and being as defensively stalwartish as possible in 2010 — and I can't see any palpable reason why that's changed. Is it fatigue? Perhaps, but it's a weird argument to make after three weeks off. Is it age? I mean, that's possible, but it sure doesn't seem likely, as none of them are old particularly. It's often said that the early 30s are the best years for defenders. I'm inclined to buy into that.
Further, we've got to finish our chances. That goes rather without saying. Is it that we're playing slightly within ourselves? Are we putting ourselves in bad situations by going down goals and then just having that extra little mental hiccup that keeps us from putting the ball in the back of the net? It's not as if we haven't had clear-cut chances in the last two matches. How much can we put down to luck? Maybe a little. Maybe we get a couple different calls and the complexion changes.
But I must say — and this is my problem with blaming referees — we have the ability over 90 minutes to win matches. We have the right pieces, the right approach, the right attacking ideas. We haven't been found lacking there. Those pieces remain rather intact. If we, as a side, cannot create more than two clear-cut chances to score a goal, something is wrong — even if the referee takes those two chances away. Now, I'm convinced we have had many more opportunities than that, so I can't blame our effort there. The referee may have influenced one, two, maybe three scoring chances, but we had many more than that to choose from. We've just got to put some of those away in the future.
How do we solve mentality? I think it naturally follows from the first two, really. Additionally, I'm not really convinced that it's a mentality issue yet. If this sort of thing keeps up long-term, well, sure. It might be mentality. But we don't have that evidence yet. How we judge their mentality will owe largely to how well our players can right this listing ship.
Right, I'll leave you with this depressing press conference from Jason Kreis. 'Til tomorrow.