Detroit City’s 2016 season has come to an end, the last wisps of colored smoke have dissipated, and the last supporter has just now been served his beer at Fowling Warehouse.* Time to take a look at the good, the bad, and what City must do to bounce back in 2017.
What Went Right:
I mentioned this in a recent post but allow me to expound on it. Despite the match results this season, City played some of its prettiest and most skillful soccer ever. Whereas the teams that played at Cass Tech tended to rely mainly on long aerial passes to get the ball to speedy strikers such as Will Mellors-Blair, this year’s edition showed more of an ability to execute quick, short passes and maintain possession in the opponent’s half of the field. As the record showed, they weren’t quite able to put all the pieces together, but you could see a definite attempt by Ben Pirmann to grow and evolve the team’s style of play. The hope is that next year they’ll be able to master the lesson.
Another bright spot was the emergence of several young players who could play vital roles in the years to come. First and foremost was Omar Sinclair, who appeared in all 12 league matches and led the team in minutes played (903).
A starting centerback position is his to lose heading into 2017. At the attacking end, Spiro Pliakos and Alec Lasinski both showed exciting potential, Pliakos as a slick-dribbling winger, and Lasinski as an attacking midfielder with a style similar to Tommy Catalano. One more name to remember is Andrew Dalou, yet another winger/attacking mid who did well in limited action late in the season. All four of these players will be entering their sophomore seasons in college and should only improve as they gain more experience and mature physically.
What Went Wrong:
Early on, City’s overall team defense wasn’t where it needed to be, as evidenced by their repeated struggles with opponents’ crosses and set pieces. Over the final two thirds of the season, defending the counter-attack proved to be their Achilles Heel, and ultimately, their downfall. The most obvious and glaring examples were the away matches at Grand Rapids and Lansing in which City controlled the game early on before getting blitzed on counter after counter and falling too far behind to mount serious comebacks.
Another issue was the lack of timely finishing. City led the division in goals scored, but if you take away the 9 that came against the dreadful, last-place Dayton Dynamo, they scored just 15 goals in their other 10 matches. Attacking mids Jeff Adkins, Tommy Catalano, and Cyrus Saydee had to carry most of the load on offense as no striker ever emerged as a consistent goalscorer.
Finally, as the season wore on, the roster which had looked formidable in the preseason was slowly whittled down by injuries and departures, among them key players Evan Louro, Danny Deakin, Billy Stevens, Brett Nason, and Jeff Adkins (missed the final 2 league matches with an injury). By the end of the year, several reserve players were making the bench and a few of them were seeing a good amount of playing time. This is no knock on those players, who worked extremely hard to get there, but when you’re in a fight for the playoffs, you’d naturally prefer to have your strongest lineup available, rather than be scrambling to fill holes left and right.
What to Do in 2017:
Since this is the NPSL and none of DCFC’s players are under contract, I have no idea who will and will not be back next year. What follows is my best educated guess at what the preliminary 2017 roster will look like. (Alternate positions in parentheses)
STRIKER: Javi Bautista, Tyler Moorman (anywhere but GK – maybe)
ATTACKING MIDFIELD/WING: Jeff Adkins, Tommy Catalano, Andrew Dalou, Alec Lasinski, Spiro Pliakos, Cyrus Saydee
CENTER MIDFIELD: George Chomakov, Dave Edwardson, Troy Watson
CENTERBACK: Seb Harris, Omar Sinclair
FULLBACK: Alex Isaevski, Zach Schewee, T.J. Stephens (RM), Matt Ybarra (RM/CM)
Going by this roster, these are what I believe are the biggest needs for 2017:
(1) Poacher – There were plenty of strikers on the roster to begin 2016, but no one ever quite stepped up to become a regular goalscoring threat. It doesn’t matter if they add a tall target man or a smaller, quicker WMB-type player, they just need someone who can get in dangerous positions and finish more frequently than this year’s group.
(2) More defenders – They only carried 2-3 true centerbacks all year, so adding another couple quality options besides Seb and Omar should be a major priority. At a minimum it would be a safeguard against injury and fatigue.
(3) A season-long GK – City’s top 3 keepers this year – Evan Louro, Nate Steinwascher, and Cody Lang – all had their pros and cons, but none were able to be part of the team for the full season. Maybe I’m just wistfully remembering past seasons where Jeremy Clark or Bret Mollon would start game-in, game-out, but I think having a strong, clear-cut #1 who can be around from the beginning until the end is crucial. And as we’ve seen over the years, a starting-quality second option is an absolute necessity as well.
One other thing that’s been discussed among supporters is the desire for more full-time players in general. City arguably had more talent on paper than Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, but it seemed like those two had more continuity in their squad, which was undoubtedly key for them down the stretch. While City was still tinkering and figuring out its best lineup in mid-to-late June, the GR and AA sides looked to have been set for some time.
Obviously, if you can get a guy like Will Mellors-Blair or Danny Deakin for the bulk of the season you should take him. But given the choice between a more talented player who can only be with the team for 4 or 5 games, and a guy of slightly lesser skill who can play the full season, it might be prudent to go with option B.
This may be nitpicking since players have come and gone throughout the season each year prior to this, but for the close observer the turnover appeared to be more pronounced in 2016. In any case, a bounceback in 2017 is essential. Unfortunately, with the offseason just getting underway, it will be months before we’re able to get any inkling of just how likely that will be.
*He will now begin the month-long process of exiting the Warehouse via the single available exit, provided he isn’t stopped along the way for yet another ID check, or to fill out additional paperwork.