Lone Wolves

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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.

Continue reading “Lone Wolves”

Season Preview 2017: Wrap-up

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PART I: Delirium   PART II: Forwards   PART III: Attacking Mids & Wingers   PART IV: Center Midfielders   PART V: Fullbacks   PART VI: Centerbacks   PART VII: Goalkeepers   PART VIII: Team Overview   Part IX: Predictions

They Grow Up So Fast. Five Years Ago Today:

I was curious how my season previews have grown over the years, so I did a word count comparison. The results:

2014: 2335
2015: 2981
2016: 5716
2017: 8838

I’m sorry I let you all down by falling short of 10k. I’ll try to get there next year.

Some reminders:

(1) Follow BIR on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

(2) Subscribe to the BIR email list and never miss a post.

(3) If you enjoy the blog and its content, please consider making a donation. Every penny raised goes to the site and all the tools that help keep it running.

Finally, you are required (this is an order, not a request) to subscribe to Miko.City on YouTube. Nick live streams City away matches and just recently set up this new page as the one-stop shop for all his DCFC-related content. Once the channel reaches 1000 subscribers, it unlocks the mobile YouTube app for use, making his streaming activities much easier.

I’ll end this 2017 Season Preview with a little sample of his work:

Season Preview 2017: Predictions

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PART I: Delirium   PART II: Forwards   PART III: Attacking Mids & Wingers   PART IV: Center Midfielders   PART V: Fullbacks   PART VI: Centerbacks   PART VII: Goalkeepers   PART VIII: Team Overview

For a good rundown of the 2017 NPSL Midwest Playoff format, check out this article on Detroit City’s official website.

A brief summary:

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.

Midwest Region – Great Lakes West Conference

To be blunt, City has a tough schedule. There are 14 league matches this season as opposed to 12 in 2016, and the 4 match cluster in the last week of June calls to mind the brutal stretch that the team opened last season with. They are much better equipped this time around, however, and the better roster depth coupled with no Open Cup commitment should result in a much more successful season. It may take some time for the team to gel, so I don’t think they’ll finish first in the table, but I do expect them to qualify for the playoffs.

Talking to fellow blogger Robert Sherman and seeing them beat Milwaukee 3-1 in the first league match of the season, I’m sold on the quality of Ann Arbor’s squad. They’re going to be a scary team to face, and the return of Dario Suarez makes them all the more lethal.

Grand Rapids returns much of the roster that finished first in the division in the 2016 regular season, and newcomers Milwaukee won the provisional Midwest Central last year with a perfect 6-0-0 record. I see them as the other two main competitors for playoff spots.

After the top four, there should be a bit of a drop-off down to the next tier. Kalamazoo outperformed most people’s expectations last season and I think they’ll just edge out Lansing for 5th place in the table.

Finishing up with the bottom two, Michigan Stars lost their coach (Andy Wagstaff – SVSU) and a bunch of key players, including three who are now on City’s roster (Shawn Lawson, Roddy Green, Dalton Amez). They’ll slip back down to their usual place, but FC Indiana (winless in 2016) will be this year’s divisional punching bag.

Playoffs and Beyond

Last year, City’s focus as a club revolved around beating the Michigan Bucks in the U.S. Open Cup and on Keyworth Stadium and everything surrounding its reopening. With no Open Cup commitment or stadium distraction this year, what’s first and foremost on everyone’s mind is finally winning some trophies.

While I predicted City to finish 2nd in the regular season, I really think having a more constant roster with less turnover will result in greater cohesion and more late-season success. That being said, with last season still fresh in my mind, I can’t bring myself to predict an NPSL league title. What I will do is pick them to win the Midwest Regional Playoff Tournament and make it to the NPSL league semi-final, aka the national final four.

5 Wild Guesses

(1) City will score at least 28 goals in the regular season (an average of at least 2 per match) and allow fewer than 14 (an average of under 1 per match).

(2) City will not lose a league match at Keyworth Stadium. The toughest tests will be the first two matches – Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, and the last two – Ann Arbor and Lansing.

(3) A new home attendance record will be set, and it will be greater than 8000. The regular season average will be a healthy 6000+.

(4) This prediction didn’t work out last year so I’m taking another crack at it: Three players will score at least 5 goals in competitive matches. No City trio has ever accomplished this, and I’ll go one step further by picking Jeff Adkins, Tom Catalano, and Shawn Lawson to do it.

(5) On that note, Shawn Lawson will lead the team in goals, and Cyrus Saydee will lead in assists.

Season Preview 2017: Team Overview

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Photo by Dion Degennaro

PART I: Delirium   PART II: Forwards   PART III: Attacking Mids & Wingers   PART IV: Center Midfielders   PART V: Fullbacks   PART VI: Centerbacks   PART VII: Goalkeepers

Photo by Dion Degennaro

ROSTER

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.

Continue reading “Season Preview 2017: Team Overview”

Season Preview 2017: Goalkeepers

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Steinwascher, Miller

PART I: Delirium   PART II: Forwards   PART III: Attacking Mids & Wingers   PART IV: Center Midfielders   PART V: Fullbacks   PART VI: Centerbacks

GOALKEEPER

Steinwascher, Miller

The most troublesome position for Detroit City in 2016, and the one that most needed to be addressed in the offseason was goalkeeper. Unlike some, I’d argue that last season’s struggles had more to do with player availability issues than lack of quality options.

A Rough Timeline:

Preseason – The basic plan is to have UM’s Evan Louro start the first half of the season and have Cody Lang (Seattle Pacific University) play the second half since he’s not available until classes finish in June.

May – Louro starts the Open Cup match against the Bucks and the regular season opener at Michigan Stars then has to leave the team early due to other commitments. Nate Steinwascher splits time between Oakland County FC and Detroit City, playing well in the Open Cup match at Lousiville. He and Joe Smith rotate for the remainder of May and early June, with mixed results.

June/July – Lang is thrust into the lineup on the road against Grand Rapids (6/10), just hours after a cross-country flight from Washington State. The defense looks discombobulated in a 5-2 defeat. He and Steinwascher rotate for the rest of the season. 8 goals are allowed in the final 7 matches and the defense never truly seems to gel.

The final goalkeeper stats for 2016 look like this:

In past years when City’s been successful, there’s typically been a #1 starter and a solid #2 who’s capable of starting maybe a third of the matches and generally holding his own. Think Clark-Mollon in 2013 or Mollon-Bouillennec in 2015.

Continue reading “Season Preview 2017: Goalkeepers”