PART I: The Golden Age of Piracy
Note 1: This preview addresses the roster as of 5/11/15.
Note 2: Since many players can play multiple positions, I’ve listed them at their primary spot (or at least what I think it is).
Note 3: Click here for the official DCFC roster page.
After two excellent seasons with City, Zach Myers was the presumed starter at striker until he suffered a concussion last week in training (the severity of which is still unknown). Last year, this would have been a huge blow to a team that was short on attackers. Luckily for us, this is 2015 and there are a number of other options up top.
First and foremost are two speedsters, Will Mellors-Blair and Javier Ramirez Bautista. They are very similar in stature and playing style – quick, skilled dribblers with good finishing ability – and both excelled in the final preseason match against Muskegon. Bautista’s two goals showed that he will be an impact player from the get-go.
City veteran and inaugural team-member Wade Allan returns, bringing with him his strength and hold-up play. He’s yet to score in a competitive match for the club, and no one deserves a goal more than him. When he gets it, I will feel warm and fuzzy inside.
There are three target-man type forwards that add some much needed size to the position. Tyler Channell and Brendan Woodfull join from SVSU and OU respectively, while Jordan Tyler returns to the team after a one-season absence. All are listed at 6’2”.
An intriguing newcomer that we didn’t get a chance to see in the preseason is Charlie MacInnes, formerly of Quad Cities. The Liverpool native totaled 37 goals and 19 assists in his final three seasons at St. Ambrose University. It’s a safe bet he’ll be seeing plenty of the field before too long.
I foresee a bit of a change in City’s playing style this year, and it may be most noticeable in the play on the flanks, where the emphasis on speed could shift more to possession. Last year’s team MVP Cyrus Saydee and former Michigan Bucks standout Tommy Catalano are my projected starters. Both possess a calm, technical, incisive passing skillset, and both are comfortable cutting inside and roaming throughout the attacking part of the field looking to create.
Two key contributors from 2014 return in Jeff Adkins and Colin McAtee. Adkins is a speedy, attack-minded player who has spent a good amount of time at forward in the past two years and is also dangerous in dead-ball situations.
McAtee can also play forward, but with the number of players already at that position, he will likely see most of his time on the right wing and at right back.
Finally, George Chomakov looked quick and did a good job creating chances in his preseason performances, but he also picked up several minor injuries along the way. If he can stay healthy there’s definitely a place for him in the rotation.
Year after year, center midfield takes the title of deepest position on the team, and the story remains the same in 2015. Dave Edwardson and Latif Alashe have emerged as Ben Pirmann’s preferred pairing in the middle. Both are ball-winners most adept at breaking up the opposing team’s attacks and pushing the ball forward to Saydee and his fellow playmakers.
Right behind them, capable of filling in and starting at any time, are veterans Locky Savage, Spencer Thompson, and Kevin Taylor. Savage brings the most to the table in terms of going forward, Thompson is a hard-tackler with a similar skillset to A&E (I’m going to keep using this to refer to Alashe and Edwardson until it catches on), and Taylor’s height makes him a major threat on set pieces.
After THEM are several players who have seen action with the team and are back for another tour of duty. TJ VanSlooten saw significant time last season, some of it at forward. With him are Danny Dragoi, who had strong preseason performances against SVSU and MSU, Colin Helmrich, Connor Furgason, and recently graduated U of D-Mercy Captain Matt Ybarra.
Like his former Quad Cities teammate Charlie MacInnes, we’ve yet to see any of Ross Hendry. On another team in the Midwest, he might step in and start from day one, but with the number of quality players at his position, he will need to fight to earn his time.
City has a left back problem. It isn’t that they don’t have anyone who can play there, it’s that their two best fullbacks just so happen to be natural left-sided players. Zach Schewee has been a mainstay of the team from very early in its existence, and he even earned an invite to the NPSL combine this past offseason as one of the best players from the Midwest region. Luckily he can also play on the right, and that’s where I’ve penciled him in since Alex Isaevski is too good to leave on the bench. Schewee is the better defender, but Isaevski is more athletic and attack-minded. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play a little left-midfield at some point this season.
Supporter section leaping enthusiast Zeke Harris is back after a year (mostly) away, but will only take part in away matches due to his new duties as color commentator for home broadcasts.
James Murphy is listed as a forward for Michigan, but played right back in the friendly against Muskegon so I’ve listed him here for now. Troy Watson also saw time in the game, as did Jon Evans. In a pinch, Colin McAtee or one of the more athletic centerbacks can fill in here as well. Speaking of centerbacks…
The biggest question I have going into the season is what this pairing will look like. There are currently six true centerbacks on the roster, and I think all of them have legitimate shots at starting. Captain Josh Rogers has hardly missed a game in his three seasons, but his competition is now stronger than ever before. As mentioned before, he’s hinted that this might be his last season, and his preseason play wasn’t up to his usual standards. He still has a big role to play, but I don’t think he’s an automatic every game starter at this point.
One player who did have a nice preseason was Seb Harris, whose play likely earned him a starting spot heading into the season, either in the center or at right back. Michael Lamb saw the majority of the time alongside Rogers in 2014, and will be in the running for playing time with three newcomers. Andre Morris, Bennett Jull (who spent 2014 with Fort Pitt), and (keeping with the theme) recently-graduated MSU captain Ryan Keener each bring a physical presence to the position (all are at least 6’2”). One or possibly even two of them could be starting by year’s end.
Bret Mollon is back for his second year as the clear-cut #1, and his third overall. While not the most physically imposing keeper around, he communicates and organizes the back line very well, and rarely gives up a soft goal.
A reliable backup needs to emerge, similar to the way Mollon came up behind Jeremy Clark in 2013. Eliott Tarney (last year’s #2), Jason Wise, Drew Shepherd, and Alexandre Bouillennec all made appearances in preseason, but none stood out more noticeably than any other. I’ll take a stab in the dark and say that Bouillennec will end up seeing the most time out of Mollon’s understudies.
Key Player: Tommy Catalano (RM/CM) – His skill on the ball adds a new dimension to the team and should allow them to play a less direct, more passing and possession-oriented style.
Breakout Player: Andre Morris (CB/RB) – I was going to put Javi Bautista here, but that’s way too easy of a pick so I’m going with Morris instead. He has the size to play in central defense, as well as the athleticism to play fullback. I think he’ll be starting somewhere by midseason and end up as one of the team’s key defenders.
Unsung Hero: Colin McAtee (RB/RM/ST) – Played very well at right back last season before standing out as an attacking player at UM in the fall. I’m not quite sure where he’ll fit in, but he’ll find a spot and end up making a significant contribution while remaining a bit under the radar.
Projected Starting XI and Overview
I feel like I say this every year, but I’m going to say it again because I believe it’s true: this is the deepest, most talented team City has ever had. The reason I say it every year is because Ben Pirmann never stands pat. He is constantly looking for players to build the squad and raise its overall level. With inevitable player availability issues and several two-game weekends, this team looks able to weather most storms.
On Matchday #1, here is what I expect to see:
The number and quality of attacking options is night-and-day compared to last year. Scoring goals was a problem at times, particularly at the end of the season, but I would be stunned if that problem cropped up again on a consistent basis.
With the addition of Catalano, the midfield looks stronger than ever. His combination play with Saydee and the forwards should improve the team’s level of possession and make them very difficult to defend in the final third.
If Schewee is comfortable playing on the right, and I think he will be, then fullback looks set. The center of defense is going to see a number of different combinations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few breakdowns in the early games as things get figured out.
Overall, the number of options Pirmann has will be an asset, but there may be some struggles in the first half of the season as the best XI sorts itself out. Once late June and early July roll around, I think we’ll see a team approximating and hopefully surpassing the quality of the 2013 edition. Consistent goal production and improvement over last year’s defense will determine whether their success will remain regional or if it can be raised to the national level.