Detroit City has typically maintained a deep and talented roster from year-to-year. 2016 was an aberration, though. Partly because of player departures and partly because of injuries, the team limped to last season’s finish with several practice squad players seeing significant minutes. This isn’t meant as a criticism of those players, who earned their spots fair and square, but to seriously challenge for a conference title and beyond, you need to put out strong lineups each and every match.
The 2017 roster is a massive improvement from 2016, not just in depth but in overall quality.
A quick rundown of opening day numbers:
Jordan Kalk and Danny Dragoi were also announced as being on the 2016 roster but, except for one friendly appearance by Kalk, neither played with the team. If we take that into account and project that 2 or 3 players on the current roster may never actually appear, that still leaves the total number at 31 or 32, a substantial increase from last year, and one that was absolutely necessary.
Though I’ve mentioned this before, one more point to consider is the complete absence of players from the University of Michigan. While the school has provided City with great talents over the years (Will Mellors-Blair, Latif Alashe, Evan Louro, etc.), the practice of their college coaches pulling them from the team mid-summer was a major obstacle to City’s pursuit of Midwest and National titles.
No Wolverines, plus the word that about 12 out-of-state players are being housed for the summer, as opposed to 3 or 4 in years past, tells me that the coaching staff has built this roster with players who will be with the team from the first match until the very end. Having more players who are full-time commitments should help with team continuity and familiarity, and it’s the strategy that needed to be implemented in order for City to be a serious championship contender. Not only are there more players, most of them are starting-caliber. Ben Pirmann could roll out a starting XI made up solely of backups and I think they would still challenge for a playoff spot.
Starting up top, there are plenty of options at striker. I think Shawn Lawson gets first crack at the job, but he’ll have to fight hard to keep it with half a dozen other guys competing for playing time. The midfield has the chance to be the best City has ever rolled out, with a good mix of veterans and exciting new additions. With Adkins, Catalano, and Saydee orchestrating the attack, the strikers shouldn’t lack for goal scoring opportunities at all.
At the back, there is work to be done to rebound from a disappointing overall performance last season. Luckily, Pirmann has assembled a good group of defenders with which to work. It will take some trial and error to find the right back four, but the process should be made easier by the fact that there will be an elite college goalkeeper (or a very strong, veteran #2) playing behind them.
Formation & Tactics
Early on in the 2016 season, City’s main struggle was defending set pieces. They improved in this area as time went on, but a new problem arose: getting caught on the counter-attack. While the team’s buildup, passing, and possession were probably the best they’ve ever been, too often the fullbacks and center midfielders would get caught too far up the field. Once the opposing team won the ball, they usually only had 1 or 2 defenders to beat, and this often resulted in pain and sadness. And although City led the division in goals scored with 24, 9 of those came against last-place Dayton. In the other 10 league matches, they scored just 15 goals (1.5 per game).
With a full year of data, it’s clear that Ben Pirmann prefers a 4-2-3-1 lineup and would like to get away from the Cass Tech long-ball in favor of a style more based on possession and quick passing. I think he has the players to do that, but one of his main tasks will be making sure everyone’s on the same page. If the fullbacks push up to join the attack as they often do, the defensive midfielder (typically Dave Edwardson or Troy Watson) must hold back to help out the centerbacks and defend against the counter. And when a defender is on the ball, he should resist the urge to play a long ball over the top since that only bypasses City’s main strength: its midfield. A simple pass to Bakie Goodman in the center or to Saydee or Adkins on the wings will do much more to get the attack going than booting it far and hoping the striker can somehow track it down.
The preseason is now complete, and with all the data available I’m ready to make a prediction on the starting lineup:
I’m confident about most of the spots, with the exception of centerback. I think Seb Harris starts, but who will be next to him is anyone’s guess. I’m going with Stephen Carroll for now. Also, there’s the possibility that Goodman can slide up into Tom Catalano’s attacking midfield role in certain situations, with Troy Watson likely the first center midfielder off the bench to take the spot next to Edwardson.
Key Player: Shawn Lawson (ST) City needs to find a top dog at striker if they’re to make any serious run at a Midwest title and more. Lawson isn’t the biggest forward on the roster, nor the fastest, but he’s the most creative and is a very good finisher. The interplay between him and the attacking midfield, Cyrus Saydee in particular, should be a beautiful thing to watch.
Breakout Player: Andrew Dalou (Wing) I picked him as one of my players to watch in 2017 after some encouraging spells late last season. It may be tough for him to crack the lineup given the players currently ahead of him, but I think he has the talent to do it. On almost any other team in the division he’d be a regular starter.
Unsung Hero: Adam Spinks (RB) Zach Schewee was underrated for years, but he seems to finally be getting his due so I’ll pick a fellow fullback to receive the Unsung Hero Baton™. Adam Spinks has professional experience and once he settles in with his new teammates, I think he’ll excel as the starting right back.
Wildcard: Max Todd (ST) Every team can use multiple strikers, and although Roddy Green and Derrick Otim are more physically-gifted, Max Todd is a more polished goal scorer at the college level. He’s off the radar right now, but I could see him scoring a handful of important goals over the course of the season if given the opportunity.
Black Arrow Pick: Jeff Adkins (Wing) I thought he should’ve won the award last year, so naturally I’m going with him to take it this time.