Thursday, June 6, 2019

New York City FC 5-2 FC Cincinnati: Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Five Games Ago?

He lost his first run, you know. 1976.
And here we area again at where to begin.

One easy place would be when New York City FC’s Maxi Moralez finished their collective long walk into FC Cincinnati’s goal, aka, the moment that became the fifth…sharply humiliating goal in a 5-2 curb-stomping win by the home team. The final score-line pulled off the rare trick of flattering the visitors – e.g., the team who lost by three goals after "scoring" two. Funny thing about those two goals…and that first one, that’s what I like to call “a real striker’s own-goal.” Such technique...

“One Team Can Play. The Other…”

“At Least Wake Their Asses Up”

“They Were Practicing”

Each of those came to me as potential titles for the memorial service you’re about to read. I chose to throw a call-back to The Gipper to peg this specific result to the end of the Alan Koch era. The argument I’m leading to isn’t whether Koch would have done better tonight – because, probably not, see the first discarded title above. What I’m challenging is the top-line premise/logic of Koch’s firing: the idea that he was the problem. That’s not the same as arguing that the team needed a better coach – I’m still of the opinion they did – but of whether better play, or at least morale, would follow from Koch’s firing. Did it have to happen not now, but right now, as it did between the (again) road loss to San Jose Earthquakes (that’s a leading parenthetical) and the admittedly smooth home win over the Montreal Impact?

First, and full disclosure: I cannot speak to morale. I am neither on nor around the team. Moving on…

Second, the hard truth is that the “better play” side did not remotely fucking come through. And that’s where the rubber hits the road and abso-fucking-lutely peels out until the whole goddamn car flips over. For those counting at home, FC Cincinnati has now given up five goals in two games since Koch left (the other...oof); they gave up two more goals against the New York Red Bulls and three against the Colorado (Fucking) Rapids. With tonight’s violent buckling added to the equation, Cincinnati has allowed 16 goals in the post-Koch era; that’s half near their 33 goals allowed (which, for the record puts them in the exclusive club of teams who have allowed more than 30 goals in 2019, along with the New England Revolution, with whom FC Cincy is tied, and thanks to the Rapids for owning that record!). Also, that's in five games. Five. To put the most positive possible spin on all of that, Cincinnati only bleeds goals on the road; at home, they give up reasonable numbers of them!

The question I’m asking is whether the chaos was worth it. Sure, Koch had to go at some point, but what did elevating Yoann Damet to the head coach role do besides destroy all over his credibility as a head coach? Each successive flame-out by Cincinnati makes it harder to call Koch’s firing as anything but the lowest possible bar for evidence of action. Someone had to do something, so why not shoot the coach? Are the past five games the answer? Eh...

Another important detail: this was not about bad match-ups, even in context. At the time of Koch’s firing, Cincinnati’s record was 2-7-2. No one cheers for that, obviously, but is 1-4-0 in the five games since, hemorrhaging goals all the while. Does that strike you as meaningful improvement? Moreover, until five straight losses slapped a dunce cap on Koch’s head – and, to list them, at LAFC, v Real Salt Lake, at Red Bulls, v Philadelphia Union and at San Jose; all of them reasonable except the home loss to RSL – Cincinnati was 2-2-2. Once you consider that LAFC and Philly are, by general consensus, the two best teams this season, and San Jose was on a believable upswing, and the Red Bulls at the beginning of does that not make Koch's firing look like a wild stab in the dark (to defend management)? The question is (or the questions are), what did the team gain in the near-term by firing Koch, and was it worth it? Answer that how you like. I’m moving on to tonight’s game…where issues were evident.

Fuck me. I’m back at where to begin. Let’s start with areas of concern…

How long is Roland Lamah out? [Ed. - I just read 2-3 weeks. Could be worse. (Hat-tip, the folks at Orange & Blue Press] Asking for a friend. He has been my biggest positive all season. I started here because it’s the only obvious thought. Holy shit…

Injuries and absences matter, of course (of course), but this team doesn’t know what it’s doing out there. I compiled a long list of moments where the disconnect on moving the ball forward became too obvious to ignore, but I’ll isolate two moments to illustrate the point. One came right before Heber’s “striker’s own-goal” – and, no, there won’t be video – when Mathieu Deplagne got loose on the right and studied the box for options. Even before the cross came in, all the runs pushed toward goal – something that’s fine to do but only with a cross already on its way in - i.e., the players are attacking a ball in flight. Once it doesn’t (note: it didn’t), players have to start moving. They didn’t. Instead, every FC Cincy attacker stopped to watch Deplagne struggle on the right until everyone on the field more or less gave up.

From the opposite side, Emmanuel Ledesma got a ball wide on the right around the 70th minute and, with nothing but time, he watched one run go by, then another, then another. The play froze ultimately and ended where Deplagne's misadventure did: with people staring at Manu. Ledesma, forced to play inside, passed to an NYCFC player, and another daisy-chain of passing by the opposition ensued.

I saw a combination of both phenomena all night: a Cincinnati player would turn over the ball and the players around him would just stop and stare at him (marveling at the sight of success?). Snark aside, too few players on the team looked like they have any sense of what happens after a turnover, or they don’t know how to circulate in the attack to keep options live. That’s the attacking side. Now, let’s talk about the “STRENGTH” of the roster, defense and defensive midfield.

I’d argue that NYCFC’s first and fourth goal (and the fifth; fun with high numbers) erased FC Cincy’s midfield. They had at least two shots besides (no video, sadly), where players stole into the gap between the defense and midfield right on top of the 18, and with ample time for mischief. NYCFC’s third goal demonstrated by Ledesma can’t be counted on to defend; that was just a handful of times he completely lost Anton Tinnerholm – and where was anyone else on Tajouri-Shradi’s run/goal?

To close with the obvious, NYCFC is a better, much more talented team than FC Cincinnati. To key off another one of my proposed titles, they (utterly) broke Cincy’s pressure by playing out of the back – and all the way up the rest of the field – time and again. And it’s for that precise reason that I don’t want to read a ton into this loss: playing a better, more talented, more confident team on the road will always, always end this way. At the same time, I refuse to accept this is the best FC Cincinnati can be. There is something wrong with this team, and it does deeper than personnel. Finally, wishing a speedy recovery to all the ill. Get well faster. Please.

Also, Cincinnati scored zero goals tonight. Holy shit.

I didn’t get to everything, but, by all that’s holy, I don’t think that’s possible. To wrap up with some stray notes…

- Until he does something, like, this year to earn it, I never want to hear another announcer use the words “Adi” and “dangerous” in the same sentence. Just tonight, he failed to put away a free header on goal, he sent a shot 10 yards from goal to the fucking touch-line (claiming he was fouled), and, overall, contributed…nothing, bupkiss, a handful of shit. Do I think he’s being stranded? Sure, but his decision-making is also flat-out fucking terrible. Renegotiate that contract stat, or ship 'im soon.

- I’ve stuck up for Ledesma for most of the season, but I’m tapping out tonight. Long story short, he needs a stronger cast around him to play at this level. And, if he’s playing a wide position, his defensive output has to be there. It wasn’t. His service was OK, though.

- You know who has looked all right recently? Corben Bone. I don’t think he’s starting material (just file that away), but he keeps his game simple, he moves the ball well and quickly, and he’s the focus of my final aggravation. Which deserves a bullet-point of its own:

- By the start of the second half, Bone had started to sneak into some dead space around the top of NYCFC’s 18 - i.e., the same place NYCFC attacked with great success in the second half, thereby proving it's possible to play soccer in that space, you just have to dream, yes? Even if what he’d do with it remained an open question, Bone had ample space to receive the ball. If a team refuses to try that pass – as FC Cincy players did over and over – I don’t think they can compete in MLS. Period. My point is…just fucking try, right?

I doubt that’s as coherent as I hope it is, but those are my thoughts, both on tonight’s loss and Cincinnati’s season as a whole. For what it’s worth, I do think they’re better than what they’re doing. As for concerns for the future, I wonder whether Damet had only the one idea - e.g., "try possession!" - or whether he lacks the stature to run a team at age 29 and/or this level. Things are abysmal right now. The question is whether a couple weeks or so will be enough to turn things around. Or at least achieve respectability, goddammit.

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