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).
They seem almost like a distant memory, those players, that campaign — that team, almost. The group that impressed and, at times, depressed, sometimes in equal measure, is broken apart.
I mean, taking a step back rather rationally leads one to the distinct impression that this core group — or, appropriately, this corps — is hardly broken up at all. Some key pieces have been shuttled off, sure. Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave: All big players in the system, it can't be denied. But the departures of three of the 12 or 13 making up that all-important group don't really make for the destruction of it.
Inevitability, I guess. That's what it is. Not even a sinking feeling of inevitability — there's a bit of optimism creeping in. I mean, we're a few weeks past that fateful day, and maybe my opinion has been rightly skewed by the passage of time and other such things. I even remember the day it all came to the fore, although I suspect that's no great feat. The magic of Ives (rather, the connections of Ives and his eponymous site, Soccer by Ives) revealed to us the big news, which we would certainly have found out about before long, but likely not all in one fell swoop.
Funny. Ask me a year ago who the three players I thought were most likely to receive a red card at any given time were, and I'd have answered thusly: Olave, Johnson, Espindola. Of course, you didn't ask me then, so I could well be making it up or simply skewing my answers quite naturally, but take it on my word. Funny, too, all three received red cards through the season. Sure, they weren't necessarily just, but that's not my point. I don't really know what my point is, but you've come to expect just that.
Going into 2013 — a year I never thought would come, but not for any Mayan reasons (only because I am notoriously short-sighted) — we look less likely to see suspensions. Maybe. Three wild players — and not in the slang usage of wild — are gone. The mentality will necessarily change. That's good, right? I mean, this mentality hasn't much suited us in the larger sense of things: It lacks a vital consistency and calmitude, and that's hurt us. Not massively so, and probably not more than any other mentality or approach would — there will always be downsides to an approach, though you'd hope the upsides balance them out.
Calmitude. Hmm. Were we really missing that? Let's turn specifically to Fabian Espindola for today. I'll talk about the rest later on, I suppose.
Let's start simply. I love Fabian Espindola. Not in the romantic sort of love, but in the sort of love one feels for, say, a particularly good player on one's favorite football club. Or perhaps for the love one feels for a particularly good pizza. (Have I mentioned that I love pizza? I love pizza.) The guy's a fantastic channel-running striker, and to some extent, our tactical approach operated around his runs. And they were good runs, too — nobody could spot them like Javier Morales, and the connection those two exhibited was, well, fantastic. It changed games — sometimes.
But there was a problem in his finishing. Or there were many problems, but let's boil it down to one: He lacked that calm finish. Plain and simple, Fabian Espindola only had one setting, and it was somewhere approaching crazy. Ferocity, intensity, and any other adjective you can think of that describes roughly the same thing, he had it. No, he was it.
And that's an important thing for a side: The crazy ones are sometimes the ones that get the work done. Espindola wasn't afraid to pick up the ball, run at a player, and try to craft out a goal himself. Hell, he did it with startling regularity. And he was good at it, too, but as the going got tough, the more he'd try to do it all himself. That's good — he's a special player, and if we're to believe Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis, special players are essential (or if we believe any number of other sources or bodies of evidence) for any side — but he too often would put on his metaphorical blinders and just go for it, regardless of the circumstance. Finishing mishaps aside — those were problematic, certainly, but that problem comes with dips in confidence — this was the biggest problem with his play, to my mind.
The very best players, I suspect, are the ones who go for it themselves but recognize when others would be better suited. Really, I guess there's no suspecting about it — it's just the case, but what would I be without waffling about at times? But it's not about me. I always struggle criticizing our players — I've got those metaphorical blinders on sometimes, and at any rate, I try not to get sucked into much negativity. Were Espindola's troubles reasonably obvious? Well, yes — and they were likewise reasonably easy to overlook. He brought an important element to the game, to our style, and there was no obvious replacement.
Similarly, I am not entirely sure I gave enough thought to Espindola being an essential piece of the tactical puzzle. Oh, I certainly gave him on-pitch credit for that, but when it really comes down to brass tacks, I overlooked the real tactical thrust of the matter. Espindola, as much as Morales, Saborio or Beckerman, was a player that defined our tactical approach. Obviously, we can look at the left side of the pitch as what was our favored side, especially with Espindola's channel-running and Morales's left-sided bent, but there's more to it than that. It forced Will Johnson into less attacking positions at times, covering more ground in midfield as we looked for important balance; it saw Grabavoy uninvolved in attacks simply because the ball was being pushed around on the left side; it saw Saborio left as the only man in the box. For all the tactical benefits provided by Espindola, his predictability on the left side at times stifled our play. Was it the sole cause? Hardly. But it was a cause, and it's relevant cause.
Will we be better off without Espindola? That remains to be seen. Temporarily, we've been struck very hard, very fast. It hurts. What's that, though? No pain, no — something. Let's all keep that in mind.
If — and it's a big if, such is the mammothian stature of the task — we find strikers who can readily fill in the gaps we've got up front, we could see a distinct retooling in our attacking tactics. Perhaps it will lead to a renewed sense of optimism, maybe some trophies, and certainly some goals.
Losing Espindola. Who'd've thought, huh?