The difficulty of the MetroStars in getting behind the Dallas Burn back line in a 2-0 loss on Saturday was symptomatic of a team unable to generate any wide play. This fact was less a result of the Burn fullbacks exerting dominance on either side of the field and more a factor of a MetroStars team constructed with no natural wingers.
The talent of the individual midfielders is not in question here. The likes of Amado Guevara, Eddie Gaven, Joselito Vaca and Mark Lisi are all technically gifted players but provide few pacy runs into space that are critical for an attack that expects to be fluid and rapid.
As well, none of those players seem inclined to get into wide positions and stretch the field as true wingers do, something that would not only open up the center of midfield but also serve as additional outlets for play which often gets slowed down and comes to a screeching halt in the middle of the park.
The two MetroStars fullbacks on Saturday – Chris Leitch on the left and Ricardo Clark on the right – are not of the Frankie Hejduk mold and do little to get forward in a wide role. Jamaican international Craig Ziadie, the regular right back who was out injured for the match against Dallas, has more offensive tendencies and he can allow for Gaven and Vaca to pinch inside as the two have continually done in recent games.
Forwards John Wolyniec and Sergio Galvan Rey also are not the speediest tandem in MLS and although they often showed for the ball with their backs to goal, it did little to aid the attacking schemes. Wolyniec and Galvan Rey are also forwards who need service and can do little to assist in creating attacking maneuvers.
On a night where right-sided midfielder and All-Star shoo-in Ronnie O’Brien registered two assists for the Burn, the Metros will hope that Pablo Brenes becomes a player who can become a new attacking force at left back to complement Ziadie on the right. Two fullbacks pushing forward are as close as the MetroStars will get to effective flank play in the short term.
ROOKIE MEANS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: It is difficult to measure the intangibles that a player’s performance brings to his team. But in the case of D.C. United’s match on Saturday, when rookie Joshua Gros was left on the bench in favor of Dema Kovalenko’s return to the starting lineup, it was obvious.
"It's embarrassing to lose like that," D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen told The Washington Post. "There were so many things we didn't do correctly. We were flat, our team defense wasn't there. The dedication wasn't there."
Dedication, team defense and high energy are exactly what Gros, a player who gave up the Marines for a chance at professional soccer, has exhibited when he has been afforded the playing time. The Chicago Fire had already put away its second goal just two minutes before Gros entered the match in the 57th minute. His energy and tireless running on and off the ball provided a spark in a lost cause.
Many will pin the poor performance on Jaime Moreno’s absence but that’s only because he’s one of the most visible names on United’s roster. Kovalenko’s impending return hinted at an easy benching of the team’s rookie midfielder but expect Gros back in the lineup against Colorado - especially with United’s Earnie Stewart lost to World Cup qualifying. Gros may be the only one with the lungs and desire to keep up with the Rapids’ Chris Henderson.
FIRE, METROSTARS COPING WITH ABSENCES: Based on sheer numbers the MetroStars and Chicago Fire stand most to lose in the upcoming weekends of World Cup qualifying that hits both teams where it counts.
The absence of Damani Ralph, DaMarcus Beasley, Chris Armas and Andy Williams for the next two weeks is obviously a massive blow to the Chicago Fire’s established attack. They'll also likely lose Dipsy Selolwane again in two weeks.
Nate Jaqua (for Ralph), Craig Capano (for Williams), Logan Pause (for Armas) and Justin Mapp (for Beasley on the left) will likely get the call in Los Angeles in a game which could define the future for each player, especially in the case of Capano, who has been awaiting the right opportunity for three seasons.
The MetroStars will also be shorthanded on a West Coast trip as they battle the established system of the San Jose Earthquakes at Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
However, of all the absences Bob Bradley has to deal with, the only two that present uncertainty are the impending debut of rookie Zach Wells in goal in place of Jonny Walker and the yet to be determined replacement for Eddie Pope at center back (with Kenny Arena, Seth Stammler and Tim Regan all options) alongside Jeff Parke, the rookie and final overall SuperDraft pick who could be expected to run the back line.
The Earthquakes will still be as relentless as always even without Landon Donovan (USA), Pat Onstad and Dwayne DeRosario (both Canada) and the MetroStars will have a more difficult time than the Fire will on their West Coast trips.
TACTICAL APPROACHES NOT ALL BAD: The speculative playing style exhibited by some MLS clubs may be harshly criticized and difficult to stomach on a week-to-week basis from the spectator’s standpoint in a league that can be forgiving when it comes to losing stretches. But in a twisted way it may also potentially have a positive effect on the soccer-playing mentality in the country on the world stage.
Soccer in the USA is still evolving and gradually finding its identity on the international level when it comes to its playing style. The tendency of clubs to play result-oriented soccer in MLS may be the first sign of where that American style is leaning. The opportunistic and ruthless results achieved on the road by the Columbus Crew, Kansas City Wizards and Dallas Burn this past weekend were less about imposing play and more about calculated game plans which found the perfect time to sink a dagger into the opposition.
Some of the most successful national teams in the world approach games in the same fashion with a safety-first mindset. Other countries who promote their ability to play spectacular soccer (such as in England, Holland and Spain) have been less successful in international competitions. It may not prove to be such a negative development if the tactical and game smarts demonstrated in MLS games are transferred to the world arena.
Andy Pavon is a freelance soccer writer taking another perspective on the matches of the past weekend, past the box scores and standings.