The hometown XI made it exciting for awhile, but eventually last night's game went the way we expected -- a rousing defeat from a more talented, deeper, healthier and more cohesive team. Let's take a look at some of the takeaways from the match:
Khiry Shelton: We know the youngster is talented; there's a reason he was taken No. 2 overall in the SuperDraft. But to date, he's only shown flashes of the skill, rather than the ability to command attention and a gameplan. In the first half of the Seattle game, Shelton looked like he matured quickly - at least for a brief period of time.
The rookie midfielder/forward finished the game with his best performance to date, according to Squawka's stats. He ripped three shots and created three chances, both season-highs. In the Portland game, audibles groans rippled through the crowd as Shelton consistently held the ball too long and didn't take advantage of shooting opportunities. Last night, he had a quicker trigger -- something we'll touch upon in a bit -- and seemed to command the ball from his teammates more than in past games.
Shoot!: One of the positives from the game was the number of shots taken; with 21 fired toward the net. It was the third time they've taken 20+ shots (vs. New England and vs. Portland). Maybe the skinny home pitch (whose 70 meter width was confirmed by Grant Wahl last eve) gives few other options but to shoot on net, but the club has taken 15+ shots in each home game while maxing out at 9 shots on the road.
Even in the home games, they've seemed timid and afraid to shoot at some points. The crowd has picked up on this tendency as there was a huge "SHOOT!" outcry right before Ballouchy blasted his goal.
Good things happen when you shoot and as long as they keep firing, maybe some results will start going their way.
Not in the Mix: As Raf noted in his Three Questions exchange with Sounder at Heart, Mix is playing out of position as a holding mid, rather than on the wing . The result is that Mix’s role is less offensive and dangerous and more focused on sweeping up the midfield. Last night, he seemed busy the whole game tidying up errors, misplays and poor passes from the rest of the midfield. In his pass distribution chart, he spent his time sideline-to-sideline just behind and above the midfield line.
While there’s plenty of utility for a sweeper type, the team’s best midfielder isn’t much involved in the attack. Going forward, I’m on board with moving him out to the wing. Granted he scored a goal, but for much of the game Medhi Ballouchy seemed inconsequential. A look at the possession charts shows that the offense favored the right side with Shelton as opposed to Ballouchy’s left. Slot Mix onto the left and suddenly the offense is more dynamic.
Setting Up: The team’s set plays need some serious work. NYCFC plays on the narrowest pitch in the league. As the team most accustomed to the surface, they need to figure out how to make it work for them and that means maximizing more set plays. Last night, they took 10 corners and only connected on two of them, both from the right side. Too often the ball was sent too far where no one could reach it, or too short where no one was in a position to collect it and shoot.
Medhi Ballouchy took most of the corner kicks with Pablo Alvarez taking over the duties after Ballouchy subbed out. I’d suspect Jason Kreis will look to find someone who can serve the ball into the box better from the corners.
Wearing Down: On the plus side, the club came out firing in the first half. Too often this year, we’ve seen sluggish starts and uninspired play early on. However, In the second half, the expansionness of this team started to show. There were too many passes to no one and passes among teammates who weren't on the same page. Too often a midfielder would serve a ball thinking the forward or fellow mid would run to a spot, but didn’t. They also served too many balls that were either slight long, behind, off, etc. You didn't see it in the first half and you definitely didn't see it from Seattle.
Mauling Martins: Faced with a fast, elusive, elite forward, Kreis devised a gameplan out of the 2003 New England Patriots playbook when they faced the Indianapolis Colts. He planned to counter the speed with physicality and rough Martins up. For most of the game, once Martins touched the ball, the defense swarmed him and was consistently physical. It’s hard to say the strategy worked when Martins busted the defense for two goals, but he never did have much room or many chances, so on some level it did.
As a result of the rough-em-up approach, Kwame Watson-Siriboe will miss the next game after picking up two yellows en route to a red. Though, considering he’s been burned on at least three goals this year (the Besler throw-in, Martins’ first goal and by Dempsey on the Nigerian striker’s second), perhaps it won’t be a huge blow.
What else were the big takeaways from the game? Was the first half progress? Or was the post-Ballouchy-goal performance a reversion to form? How are you feeling heading into the Hudson Derby?