In the past week, Detroit City FC turned in its best and worst performances of the season, a 5-1 win over Cleveland, and a 2-0 defeat to Indiana, both on the road. The most important game of the year to this point will come on Sunday the 29th when Indiana makes the return trip to Cass Tech. With the second half of the season just underway, now is the time to make a midterm assessment of the team and a look ahead to the final stretch.
2014 Midseason Grades
The team as a whole hasn’t scored as many goals as it had at this time last season (17 through the first 8 games vs. 25 in 2013), but the strikers have been fairly productive. Zach Myers and Will Mellors-Blair have 4 goals apiece and Shawn Lawson has looked dangerous since his return a couple of weeks ago. Wade Allan’s playing time has suffered as a result of WMB’s emergence, but he’s still made contributions, chipping in with 2 assists.
The critique is that the attack has been inconsistent at times, most noticeably when both Myers and Mellors-Blair have been unavailable. And, with the defense showing some vulnerability, there is now more pressure on the strikers to increase their production.
Wide Midfield/Wing: A
Cyrus Saydee is playing the best soccer of his life, starting all 8 games and leading the team with 4 assists. Tyler Arnone has been excellent from day one, and Jeff Adkins has been a key piece to the attack. With how well he’s played, it’s mindboggling how he hasn’t registered a goal or assist. Miche’le Lipari has only made two appearances, but is always a good option when available.
Much of City’s offense is generated by the wide players, whether from crosses or beating defenders to get into the box. This group has been the team’s best and needs to continue its excellent play going forward.
Center Midfield: B+
The center midfielders have not stood out as much as their counterparts on the wings, but have been strong all the same. Dave Edwardson has grown into probably the best of the bunch, and Latif Alashe and Spencer Thompson have shown their usual defensive bite. Kevin Taylor’s absence has kept this position from being as deep and dominant as it was in 2013, but Zach Vasold and Locky Savage have proved to be solid options coming off the bench.
Controlling possession in each game should be a goal moving forward. If a little more of the offense can run through the middle, it will balance City’s attack and put more pressure on opposing defenses.
Injuries and absences have hurt the fullbacks more than any other position. Ryan Thelen looked like a potential starter at left back before he went down in the Open Cup, Zeke Harris has not played this season due to other commitments, and now Colin McAtee’s departure has left a gaping hole at right back. Nick Lewin, who has played at every spot on the back line this year, is the likely replacement, with Zach Schewee now re-entrenched on the left.
The upside to this situation is that it should stop the shuffling of players in these positions from game-to-game, but the downside is that depth is almost nonexistent. In the event of an injury or rotation of Lewin and/or Schewee, the replacement would likely mean someone playing out of position.
After three shutouts to start the season, City has gone five games without one, allowing 9 goals over the span. It would be foolish and incorrect to assign blame to one player or position, but it’s clear that the back line has been in flux for most of the season. Josh Rogers has looked his usual self, and it’s essential that someone steps up to seize the spot next to him. Seb Harris and Michael Lamb haven’t been poor, but neither have looked dominant either. The emergence of either of them would go a long way to solving some of the current defensive issues.
With fullback sorting itself out through attrition, centerback is clearly the most important position to address over the next several weeks. If City is going to get to the playoffs and make a deep run, team defending as a whole must improve. This starts with the center of the defense.
Aside from one dodgy moment which allowed Erie to equalize and earn a draw, Bret Mollon has been every bit as good as he was in his first season. Eliott Tarney has emerged as the #2, starting both games against Indiana, as well as the weather-shortened one at Buffalo. City allowed 2 goals in each of his starts against the Fire, but since I was not one of the few dozen people who witnessed these games, I can’t say which goals (if any) were on him. I will reserve judgment until I see him play a few games with my own eyes.
Midseason MVP – Cyrus Saydee (LW): Thoroughly discussed in this post and the previous one – he’s the team’s best player, the most consistent, and hasn’t missed a game.
Unsung Hero – Colin McAtee (RB): It’s too bad he’s headed back home to California because he was playing well enough to have effectively locked down the starting spot at right back. Losing him hurts, and it will hurt worse if a suitable replacement cannot be found.
Breakout Player – Will Mellors-Blair (ST): My preseason pick of Tyler Arnone for breakout player has looked like a good one, but WMB edges him out for this spot. Where Arnone is the reigning Big Ten Midfielder of the Year, Mellors-Blair has come out of nowhere and established himself as one of City’s top two strikers (Zach Myers obviously the other).
Midwest Division Roundup
Great Lakes West
As I write, Indiana and Lansing have just drawn 1-1, so the current standings look like this:
1. Indiana Fire – 18 pts., 10 games played
2. Detroit City FC – 17 pts., 8 games played
3. Lansing United – 15 pts., 9 games played
Indiana has been much better than expected, probably due to their affiliation with the Chicago Fire which came just a week prior to the start of the season, and Lansing has overcome some early struggles to put itself into contention. I’ll go ahead and make this prediction: whichever of the top three teams finishes second in the conference will earn an invite to the Midwest Division Playoffs (the three conference winners get automatic spots, the last goes to the second place team with the highest average points per game).
City controls its destiny, and a win on Sunday would be a huge step forward in the conference race. The remaining schedule looks like this:
July 4th – @ Michigan Stars
July 6th – Cincinnati
July 9th – @ FC Buffalo
July 11th – Fort Pitt
July 13th – @ Lansing United
- The only long road trip is to Buffalo, a game that will likely decide the 2014 Rust Belt Derby.
- While technically on the road, July 4th will be a de facto home game – this, along with the two actual home games are must wins against weaker opponents.
- It would be highly desirable to have the conference wrapped up before the finale at Lansing, a quickly improving side that is also in the hunt for the title.
Great Lakes East
Although half of the season is gone, this conference is too close to call. Buffalo appears to be the top team, with Cleveland close behind. Erie and Fort Pitt trail, but neither is out of contention yet.
Elsewhere, Quad City looks like the class of the Central Conference; they are 1 point ahead of Madison with two games in hand.
Eau Claire Aris gets the nod for worst team in the Midwest, scoring 4 and conceding 28 in their five games, all losses.
While we’re all still reeling a bit from City’s first regular-season loss in nearly two calendar years, the team is still just a point back with two games in hand, and there is plenty of time for issues to be addressed and for form to improve. A home win over Indiana would put City firmly in the driver’s seat for the conference’s automatic playoff spot, and the remainder of the schedule is manageable. This is a good team, and over the course of the next month or so, we’re going to find out exactly how good they really are.