Even with the permanent departures of Will Mellors-Blair and Zach Myers, the top two goalscorers in club history, the number of quality attacking players on Detroit City’s roster is staggering. This should allow Ben Pirmann to interchange and rotate pieces freely without too much, if any, drop in the level of play from one match to the next. A good early test of this theory will come in the very first week of the season, when the Open Cup rematch with the Michigan Bucks on May 11th will be followed up with a return to Wisner Stadium to play Michigan Stars on Friday and a longer away trip to Dayton on Sunday.
Scoring goals shouldn’t be too much of an issue; the biggest question heading into the season is how the heart of the defense will hold up. The starting goalkeeper and central defenders have the talent and experience for City to win a healthy majority of its matches, but for the team to seriously challenge for a Midwest title, they will need to develop a strong relationship and progress together over the course of the season.
The depth at those two positions is what will be foremost in my mind heading into the final preseason match. It’s comparable to the situation at striker the past couple of years where the main man (Myers in 2014, WMB in 2015) was very good, but there wasn’t an obvious replacement for him if he was hurt or unavailable. Needless to say, both of those seasons didn’t end on the notes that anyone wanted. While guys like Deakin, Al-Gashamy, Adkins, and a healthy Javi should provide plenty of firepower up front, centerback and keeper are the spots to watch the closest, starting this Saturday.
A possible strategy, and one that was experimented with in the first preseason friendly, would be to go with a three-man back line. In this formation, one of the center mids, probably Troy Watson, would drop deep while the other team attacks…
…and would push back into midfield when City has the ball.
This may be something to watch for as the season goes on, but I’d be surprised if they lined up that way against the Bucks. Here’s what I think we’ll see on the 11th:
I believe Channell and Bautista are roughly equal in the pecking order at striker right now, so it’s really Pirmann’s preference as to who gets the start. Since the Bucks’ pace of play was something that City couldn’t cope with last year, I think he’ll go with the bigger forward in order to maintain more possession and get the talented attacking midfielders more time doing what they do best, rather than chasing the ball around the field trying to win it back.
Similarly, you could pick any two of Saydee/Adkins/Al-Gashamy to start. I think Cyrus gets the nod for his ability to keep the ball, and the other side will be a coin flip. Bautista and Al-Gashamy would be my first two options off the bench, for what it’s worth.
For the remainder of the season, the goal will be to find the best combinations with an eye towards (hopefully) the playoffs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see fewer total players make appearances than in 2015, though there should be plenty of variation in game-to-game lineups, especially up front.
Key Player: Troy Watson (CM) All of the exciting forwards, wingers, and attacking mids won’t be able to showcase their skills without someone getting them the ball. Watson is the most important player in the starting XI not only for his ball-winning proficiency, but for his responsibilities in shielding the back line and tracking all the way back when needed. His performances in the early part of the season will be crucial, especially if the defense is still finding its footing.
Breakout Player: Danny Deakin (FW/Att. Mid.) Not to put too much pressure on him, but Deakin is a future pro and should have a definite, noticeable effect on how City plays. He should lead or be near the top of the team in both goals and assists, and it may get to the point where everyone gets a little quieter and pays extra close attention when he’s on the ball, a la WMB last season.
Unsung Hero: Cyrus Saydee (Att. Mid.) This may seem odd, given that Saydee is one of City’s best and most recognizable players, but with the extra talent around him, I think he’ll blend in more and won’t draw the same attention from defenders because of all the other threats. This should allow him to have one of his best seasons, you’ll just have to watch more closely to fully appreciate him.