Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 0 Michigan Bucks 0 (4-3 DCFC on penalties AET)
One thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our practice of knowledge accumulation. Older technology forms the basis of new inventions and discoveries build upon each other, causing fields of study to become more and more specialized and intricate over time. This phenomenon exists at the individual level as well, in that we learn from our past experiences and make use of that information in the future.
While many of Detroit City’s players are young up-and-comers looking to further their development by playing over the summer, what gets lost in the shuffle is that their head coach is in a similar situation. Even though Ben Pirmann is in his fourth year in charge of City, he’s still only 30 years old, essentially a novice when it comes to the coaching profession.
His approach to the Open Cup match last year was, to use his words, naïve. His team played too stretched, too open, and looked uncomfortable playing on the spacious indoor field. After a good early chance from Will Mellors-Blair, the Bucks asserted themselves and the game was over before halftime. The loss was deflating but full of lessons, many of which formed the foundation of Wednesday’s gameplan.
It was clear to any casual observer how badly he wanted this one.
In order to get it, he changed, he evolved, he adapted like the Borg.
After years of running a basic 4-4-2, which probably had as much to do with the narrow field at Cass Tech as his own personal preferences, Pirmann has rolled out more of a 4-2-3-1 in the early part of 2016. Apart from the subtle changes in formation, what was most striking in this game was the positional discipline and commitment to a defense-first strategy. Rarely did any City player stray too far from his spot on the field, and while this led to a somewhat frustrating offensive performance, it proved effective at stifling the Bucks’ attack. Aside from two or three real chances, the Bucks had a very difficult time generating anything else, in stark contrast to last year when their three goals easily could’ve been five or six.
In the end, the plan worked. Helped by some spectacular goalkeeping from Evan Louro and the (mostly) ice-cold penalty takes, City closed the on-field gap between the two clubs. In just one year, they went from a team that looked like it didn’t belong in the same building with the Bucks to one that played them dead even over the course of an entire match.
Pirmann now has a signature win – easily the biggest in club history – and his fingerprints are becoming ever more noticeable when it comes to the makeup of City’s roster and its playing style. The hope now is that the development of his skills as a coach will translate into further success, particularly in the playoffs. Of course, to get there, the team must first go through the 12-match regular season.
City’s level of talent is superior to that of any team they’ll face in a competitive match for the rest of the season, so if Wednesday was indicative of how they’ll play moving forward, a deep playoff run seems a very reasonable expectation. No longer part of a fledgling club, Pirmann and his players have ample experiences from which to draw upon. The heights they reach will be greatly determined by their willingness to learn from the lessons of the past.
Opposite field PK shootout video taken by John Brown II: