Lone Wolves

Photo by Dion Degennaro

Friday, May 12th, 2017 – Detroit City FC 3 Milwaukee Torrent 3
Sunday, May 14th, 2017 – Michigan Stars 2 Detroit City FC 2

Photo by Dion Degennaro

Now this is the Law of the Jungle —
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

In an alternate universe, in a different time and place, starting the season off with two draws would be a mild disappointment and not a major concern. Here and now, though, it feels like a tragedy. As Detroit City has grown in popularity and stature – part of its natural evolution as a sports team – so too have fan expectations. The reason these two draws are so unsatisfying is because those expectations have outpaced recent results to the tune of one win in the last six league matches.

Going back to the beginning of last year, City has struggled with every team they’ve gone up against that has a pulse. Poor defending has become the norm, and 2016’s troubles with set pieces and the counter-attack have devolved into problems with marking, clearances, and a general lack of communication.

Many supporters, myself included, have hypothesized and discussed changes that can be made in tactics, formation, and personnel. While these are all important and can have direct impacts on results, I think City’s issues lie at a more fundamental level.

Right now, they are not a team but a collection of individuals. They hunt alone rather than in a pack, and they defend more reactively than proactively.  This isn’t entirely unexpected since there are so many new players, some of whom have been here less than a week. In the NPSL, though, where matches are almost as scarce as quality referees, everything is on an accelerated timetable. With 1/7th of the season down, fixes and solutions must come soon. The good news is I think the tools are there to do just that.

This past weekend’s opponents – Milwaukee, and Michigan Stars – gave a template of what must be done to earn a playoff spot. While both clubs were probably not as talented as City, they looked hungrier, scrappier, and more willing to fight for each other. That’s not to say that City’s players lack heart or effort, but through their indecisiveness and miscommunications, it’s clear to the outside observer that they aren’t all on the same page.

With Cyrus Saydee playing the best soccer of his life, the attack is in good hands and goal scoring shouldn’t be an issue. Underlining this point, City’s 2.5 goals-per-match currently has them on pace to score 35 this season.

The real work – that on which the season hinges – is building a cohesive defense. Not just a centerback pairing, not just a back four and keeper, but a complete unit in which all eleven players are committed to staying with their man, being fearless in every challenge, and helping their teammates in all aspects of the match, beginning with more vocal communication.

Beyond that, a killer instinct must be developed. Two-goal leads are better than one-goal leads, and three-goal leads are better than two. The scent of blood should be a signal to go for the kill, not to sit back and invite pressure.

The players are there; now’s the time for them to become a team in the true sense of the word. If the season is to be a success – i.e. result in a deep playoff run – a win against Ann Arbor is almost a necessity. AFCAA has jumped out to a 2-0-0 start and another victory on Sunday would set them up to run away with the division, leaving the other seven clubs to scrap for the only other playoff spot. There’s still time for City, but in order for them to turn things around they must heed the law.

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk
the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,
and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

BIR Bullets

(1) The matches were eerily similar: Both first halves were strong showings characterized by sharp passing, possession, creative attacking, and solid defense. It looked like a switch was flipped at each halftime, though – both second halves saw City sit back and invite pressure, often to their detriment. And the quick, short passing was replaced by long boot after long boot over the top, usually to no one in particular. This allowed the opposing teams to gather the ball and come with another wave of attack. Against a defense still learning each other’s names, this didn’t work out so well.

(2) Controversial Calls: On second looks, both the Max Todd non-PK against Milwaukee and the first goal for the Stars which seemed offside were called correctly. Todd drew a little contact but went down too easily:

And at the moment the ball was played below, the City defender on the far right played the eventual Stars goal scorer (the guy in the bottom right corner) onside.

(3) Goals you don’t see every day:

Jeff Adkins’ Olimpico:

Adam Spinks’ “I meant to do that”:

(4) Cyrus Saydee: As mentioned above, he’s playing out of his mind right now. He had another penalty kick saved on Sunday, so someone else should probably get a crack at those, but every other aspect of his game is on point. QED:

This goal has been rated NC-17 for filthiness.

(5) Standouts: Bakie Goodman is as advertised, he just needs more of the ball. He’s also a surprisingly good tackler and ball-winner. Max Todd is another very good attacking option to have. Colin Miller is an elite shot-stopper, but his willingness to be vocal and direct the defenders in front of him could turn out to be just as important. Roddy Green and Spencer Glass have showed real promise, they just need more game action. If they’re still around in a couple years they’ll each be key players on the team.

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