With City’s annual open tryout this past Friday and now the full 2017 schedule dropping, the new season cycle has officially begun. It’s been a solid six months since we’ve had anything to sink our teeth into, so let’s get to it.
The initial thing to note is that the new divisional format means City will play 14 league matches in two months, as opposed to 12 over the same time period in 2016. Not having an Open Cup commitment, while disappointing, also means that the early part of the season will be a little less crowded with fixtures.
The very first weekend should provide ample evidence as to whether or not City has put last season’s struggles behind them. In 2016 Milwaukee Torrent went 6-0-0 in the provisional Midwest Central division while Michigan Stars took a win and a draw out of their two meetings with DCFC.
The next two matches are against the teams that finished #1 and #2 in the division last season – Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. Following the latter matchup on Friday, June 2nd, City will have to make a long trip to Indiana on Sunday the 4th. Despite the fact that Indiana looks to be probably the weakest team in the division, going on the road after a short turnaround makes this a potential trap.
After two-straight one-match weekends comes one of the most brutal stretches that City has ever had to go through, second only to the beginning of last season in which they played 6 matches in 12 days, including two 120-minute epics in the U.S. Open Cup.
This year’s gauntlet, while it doesn’t include the Michigan Bucks or Louisville City, is a massive challenge in its own right. After the Friday night home matchup with Kalamazoo on June 23rd, City makes it longest road trip of the season to Milwaukee on Sunday, then heads back home to face FC Indiana in their first ever mid-week league match. They then finish out the set on Friday the 30th against Michigan Stars. Although, in a vacuum, none of these teams appear to be world-beaters, having to play 4 in 8 days is the kind of stretch that can break a season if not managed carefully. The league campaign finishes up with Ann Arbor and a double-dose of Lansing, two teams that have always played City tough.
Overall, this is a very difficult schedule. There are no easy weekends – even those with only one match all take place on the road until the season finale (unless you want to count June 30th which comes at the tail end of the 4-in-8 discussed above). Even the matches with FC Indiana, which should be the easiest for City, come just two days after much tougher ones (Grand Rapids, @ Milwaukee).
The upside is that all the other teams in the division face a similarly challenging slate, plus the rearranged Midwest Region means that the top two teams will make it to the postseason, rather than just one as in previous seasons.
A nice, straightforward presentation of the finalized divisions and the playoff structure is available on DCFC’s website. I’ll attempt to summarize:
Three Midwest divisions, top two teams from each division qualify for playoffs. Seeding is determined by points-per-game. #3 hosts #6 and #4 hosts #5 on Saturday, July 22nd. The winners of those two matches advance to play #1 and #2 the following Friday (June 28th), with the Midwest Championship taking place on Saturday the 29th. Each of the final four teams can submit bids to host the regional tournament.
The more I look at this system, the more I like it. I’m not a fan of using points-per-game since teams from a weaker division can inflate their overall record by beating up on creampuffs, but opening the tournament up to 6 teams should help mitigate this. This is about the best we could hope for, and I’m happy with it.
Afterword: A Few Thoughts on Tryouts
As mentioned at the beginning, City’s annual open tryouts came and went this past Friday. From my untrained, amateur perspective, nobody truly stood out, and this was confirmed by my #sources who told me that, indeed, none of the hopefuls made the team.
Although I’m not a coach and my playing skills may be best described as “enthusiastic rec-league plugger,” I’m going to offer this opinion: the tryout format sucks and should be changed.
Oakland Yard is a nice, big facility, and I don’t understand the point of playing 14v14 on a giant, square-shaped field. It’s a big, chaotic mess where every player ends up sitting on the sidelines watching for the majority of the time, and then coming in and trying to make an impression along with the other 27 people on the field. When someone finally gets a touch or some time on the ball, they typically end up trying to do too much or going too fast because that might be the only real opportunity they get to show what they can do. The end result is that most of the players look visibly frustrated, and understandably so.
I propose splitting the field in half (the lines are already there), dividing the players into eight teams, and playing two simultaneous games of 7v7. The first four teams would play for 45 minutes or an hour, then the next four would go for an equal amount of time. From there the coaches could pick and choose who to evaluate further in a final match (or two). This would get every player more time on the ball, enable them to settle in and play their natural game, and allow for better evaluation of individuals by the coaches and volunteer observers. Plus, the smaller fields would allow for four goalkeepers to play at once and actually showcase some of their talents – the poor attacking and sloppy play on Friday resulted in all of the keepers going virtually untested.
Of course, going to this format wouldn’t guarantee different results in terms of players making the team, but I think it would give each of them more of a fair shake and a better opportunity. At the very least, it would be much more entertaining and engaging for everyone involved.