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).
Few sensations beat that of the late, last-gasp win. It is as unique a feeling as any, incomparable in most sporting efforts. No delays, no time-outs, nothing: Just a slalom to the final whistle, and along the way, a goal. It wasn't the prettiest goal, nor was it the prettiest penalty — but it was successful, and that, in this competition, mattered more than any single factor could have.
It's not to say that we were exactly terrible. No, far from it — we were solid, save in our attack. Well, that's, what, half of the battle, right? We weren't even that bad in attack, but a strong tactical outlay from Tauro saw us sputtering at times. It wasn't really the personnel — and I know some will blame Jonny Steele, Ned Grabavoy or Alvaro Saborio for that — but the fact that Tauro clogged the passing lanes in the final third.
It was in part owing to their three men at the back, and in part owing to their deploying three defensive-minded players in front of them to rotate around the area. They weren't exactly parking the bus (to use a Mourinhoism), but they were compact and efficient. Those bodies meant Espindola and Morales weren't able to do the offensive work necessary, which put a real damper on the affair.
As a result, Javi transformed into more of a link-up player up high, connecting with midfielders and forwards with short, quick passes rather than his more deliberative, defense-breaking passes. With players unable to make runs up top, runs from deep were the best way to go forward, and those were hardly forthcoming.
The balance that led to that state of affairs was interesting. Jonny Steele was clearly brought in to shoulder some defensive workload, and given that Tauro deploy a number of tricky midfielders (five, I'd say) ahead of their strong rearguard, that was perhaps the right decision. He and Will Johnson got forward well but stopped at the edge of the final third — and there may have been two distinct reasons for this.
One: They were a little tentative going forward because we've been burned on the counter too many times this season. Our renewed focus on defense in the last month has meant we've scored fewer goals, so we're still trying to strike the right approach as a squad.
Two: The full backs weren't bombing forward, leaving us little room to work passes and move into the final third. Both Steele and Johnson rely on the full backs to break into that area and complete short passes to build possession. Neither are incredibly tricky midfielders, so they're never likely to do it on their own. Why wouldn't they bomb forward? Again, it's that balance we're trying to strike.
There's little use blaming individuals for the state of affairs. It was a systemic sort of thing, and once we fixed that, everything sort of smoothed over. Now, in the process, we did allow a few killer chances for Tauro — one in particular saw Nick Rimando scrambling all over the place in a sweeper-keeper role (I'd take no MLS goalkeeper over him in this role) and making some vital challenges. Yes, challenges — not just stops. Terrifying stuff.
With our midfielders pushed further forward late on, a goal seemed inevitable. We produced chance after chance once we forced their three(ish) center backs onto their back feet, but in the process, we weakened our defense to such a significant amount that I'd not have been in the least bit surprised if we'd conceded.
But we didn't. And we scored a goal.
And that's really what matters, isn't it?