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).
How much have injuries hurt us this season? It's a hard question to answer, because ostensibly, we're doing better than we ever have to this point. Never mind the two most recent losses, too. But that we're all upset — Jason Kreis first and foremost — speaks highly to the state of our club. We're in second place and it's, well, not good enough. That's all there is to it. It's more than just refreshing: Since Kreis took over, expectations have skyrocketed, and rightly so. It's what happens when performances reach the levels they have.
But back to the question. Injuries have disrupted our side in an interesting way this season, and while we've been good enough to grab the points on most occasions, we're not perfect yet. Someday, right? We can start at the beginning of the season, when we were without midfield dynamo Will Johnson. That absence, along with that of Javier Morales and Jonny Steele, meant we started youngster Sebastian Velasquez.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about playing Sebas. I think he's going to be a spectacular player. But it made it difficult on Kreis and Co., as playing him right off that bat was a bit of a risky move. Not, of course, because they were too concerned about his quality, I think, but because dropping a young player into the lineup when you certainly don't intend to keep him there can be damaging to mentality. That Sebastian has been understanding of that fact is refreshing and speaks very, very well to his mental qualities as a player.
While Will certainly could have helped seal those early games, late wins and whatnot made the start of our season rather exciting, and we did gain the proper points, by and large.
We've also seen rather high-profile defensive injuries — in part since the start of the season: Chris Schuler, with his foot stress response injury thing, has meant we've not had a quality backup in the center of the park for a good chunk of matches. Mind, I'm not counting Chris Wingert as a backup here, as he's more an emergency solution. A good emergency solution, but one of these all the same. This has rather hurt us: playing a half-strength Olave has seen his injury problems escalate, while playing a slightly struggling Borchers has hampered his abilities somewhat. When we talk about defensive issues, this should be at the front of our minds. Should it be a problem? Likely not. But it is what it is. Further: Does it make it acceptable? This is a big question.
Surprisingly, our front line has been fairly injury-free this campaign, which is nice. Given their role in, well, scoring goals, it's hard to imagine our side any other way. Strike that — it's not hard to remember. Just look back to one year ago, when we were playing a front line consisting of Luis Gil and Jean Alexandre. No slight against either — and certainly both scored some spectacular goals — but that was rough and cost us points.
So while Saborio started the season a bit knackered, he's been brought along very well and looks near full-strength at this point. Espindola, too, is always an injury risk; given his haphazard running up and down the pitch, I'd not be surprised to see more strains out of his legs. Knock on wood and what. This has been especially good as some of our striking backups have been in and out of injury land, particularly Cody Arnoux. Arnoux, of course, is notable for his injury issues, but I'm fully convinced he's starting to come back into things and could soon start finding minutes on the bench. Cautious optimism and that, you know.
Our biggest injury issue has been in the lynchpin spot: Javier Morales, the fearless playmaker, is still working on really coming back from that horrific injury against Chivas USA. He's been rather in and out of our side this season, but it finally looks like things are returning to some semblance of normal with Javi's health. His seek of alternative treatment and finding that the problem was some sort of nerve in his back was massive: Nothing against the doctors we've got tied to our side, of course, but there's a reason you seek second opinions for significant medical issues. It's not as if we have doctors that can just wave a medical tricorder and find every last problem. (Don't we just wish?)
With Javier coming back into fitness just as Luis Gil does the same after a knock in international training, our attack could be running as smoothly as ever. Our strikers are rather on fire (not literally, of course — that would be a shame and frightening, although the latter may play into our advantage — is there anything in the Laws of the Game about being on fire?) and having more service could be much to our advantage as well as theirs.
With everyone else coming back into some sort of fitness, we've just got to get our center backs healthy again. With three genuine options (four, maybe? Soon?) battling for first-team minutes, we should be one of the best defensive sides in the league, but with this run of injuries, it's not entirely surprising that we've struggled. Perhaps we should be happy where we are — but the mark of ambition is dissatisfaction with anything but the best. I wouldn't have it any other way.