The first thing that came across the news feed this morning was that Jose Valencia has tallied five goals in 14 games with Club Olimpo in the Argentine top division (the video clip in this linked article shows quite a nice one). There was never any doubt in my mind that Valencia has talent, and a pretty imposing physique to go along with it. In part this is probably a matter of his natural trajectory of development combined with getting more playing time, as he has certainly done at Olimpo. I haven’t really seen any extensive game footage, so I don’t know where he’s been playing, but I have a suspicion that it’s in a more central position that he was for us (at least on most occasions). Anyway, good on him. I don’t know if this is one of those rent-to-own type of situations with Olimpo, but given the paucity of goals for us just now I wouldn’t mind seeing him get another shot up here. I’m in a little better frame of mind than I was when
I wrote the player ratings. I read the ratings that Kip Kesgard published in the Oregonian. They are rather higher than mine, and I see where he’s coming from. One point about which I do disagree is the evaluation of our defense. His ratings are consistently about two points higher than mine, except in the case of Alvas Powell. He gave Powell a 7, whereas I gave him a 4. How are we to reconcile these two evaluations?
First let me say that player ratings are the sort of thing about which reasonable people (among whom I am at least occasionally numbered) can disagree. They are, in fact, meant to be discussion pieces rather than some sort of objective calculation. I don’t disagree with what Kesgard has to say about the defense generally. The reason that I was a bit more critical is simply that the quality of the opposing attack was such that it really shouldn’t have troubled us. And for most of the match it really didn’t. The evaluations that I gave to our squad were, admittedly, heavily colored by the fact that we made a grievous error against a team that is, from an attacking standpoint, (at best) a one trick pony. You could look at the broad scope of the match and say that we didn’t do all that badly, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But teams with pretensions to titles and such need to keep it together for every play.
The thing that I find most disturbing about that goal is that it bespeaks a lack of focus. It is, I am afraid, not the only evidence of such a lack in evidence so far this term. This is, in most important respects, the same team that got it done most weeks last season. Yet this time around they can’t seem to keep things together for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch. Partly this is an optical illusion resulting from the fact that, although we are still playing the same offensive system, we are in the process of tweaking it to account for our new attacking personnel. We benefitted last season from the excellence of Valeri’s freshman campaign in the league and from the new freedom that this allowed Nagbe to express his game. We also had more physicality up front in the form of Ryan Johnson. The approach on which we are now embarked is a viable one, but it is based very much on timing and understanding, and that doesn’t happen overnight even at the highest levels. In that respect it’s not surprising that it’s taking them some to gel.
On the other hand, our play in midfield has been uneven at best and the possession statistics for the season so far tell an important part of the story of why we have not been successful. The sight of opposing attackers galloping unmolested though the middle of the park has been seen altogether too often. If we are not willing and/or able to close them down (preferable as they are receiving the ball), it makes the chances that our failing further back will be exposed increase.
As to the matter of Alvas Powell, 4 was probably too harsh. He did pretty well in defense and was able to get up and down the touchline without leaving us uncovered in defense. But he is still very much a work in progress. He has, in particular, to tendencies characteristic of young players. First, he doesn’t pass the ball in rhythm. He’s been trained to bomb down the sideline and that is a big part of what a fullback in a modern attacking system is meant to do. But ours is very much a motion game and he needs to work on keeping things moving when he’s not in straight up attack mode so that our game doesn’t bog down. Second, he is beset with the sort of optimism common among young players of quality. He has a repertoire of moves that have gotten him this level, but he now has to learn that there are a lot of them that simply won’t work on the quality of defender that he will see at this level.
Players of even the very first water have to learn that the game at this level (and those above) has to be about teamwork. It is only through quality interactions with the team that individual brilliance can be allowed to flourish. Nagbe has effectively taken this lesson on board. Alhassan is in the process of learning it, however slowly. Powell will, I suspect, get it in the long run. But the sooner he works it into his game the better, both for him and for us. I have to admit to a certain degree of frustration about how the season is going so far. It’s not just the lack wins (or of a win) but that it’s a bit painful watching us fail to do things that I know from past experience that we know how to do. I’m actually confident that, in the long run, this team will show the quality that is has. The question is: will it be soon enough to do this season any good?