Alright, this is an enormous undertaking. Let's make this as quick as possible since there's so much to get to. One of the observations our very own Stephen Piggott made in his tactical preview was to take advantage of the transition from defense to attack and keep Yannick Djalo contained. Well, we saw the opposite of that last week as all five of San Jose's goals were from catching the Fire defense out of position with Djalo getting a goal and two assists.
Lost in Transition
This first screen cap illustrates Lovel Palmer getting forward and unleashing a shot on goal. Palmer has amped up his aggression in both his defense and his forays forward and his game has vastly improved as a result. This is a good attempt at goal as he has the space to take a shot with no other attackers around
He tries this again two minutes later, only this time there are four Fire attackers in the box and Jason Hernandez steps up to close down the space. Palmer hesitates as his chance to shoot is gone and none of the Fire players are making hard runs to get into threatening positions. Instead Palmer floats a weak cross in the box to no one in particular.
Victor Bernardez emphatically heads the ball clear so well it starts a counter attack that already defeats seven Fire defenders. Now it's Shea Salinas vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for the loose ball and Hurtado must at least contain Salinas or risk Salinas and Chris Wondolowski taking on Bakary Soumare (both right of frame) in a 2v1 situation with Gonzalo Segares still recovering.
Hurtado blocks the pass to Wondolowski but no one in red is in position to collect the second ball or close enough to challenge Yannick Djalo who recognizes the counter-attack is still on. This is the first of a few unlucky bounces that directly favored San Jose on the night.
Salinas chases down the long ball that seemed destined to go out of bounds and cuts inside. Hurtado hustles back but defends the wing like a centerback failing to cut off the pass to Wondolowski and the angle for Salinas to cut to the inside. This is the first of many conundrums in which Hurtado finds himself throughout the night. Does he close down Salinas without cover in a 3v3 situation or react to the attacker's next move with a positional disadvantage?
Salinas bears down on goal and clearly wants to move to his favored right. Wondolowski shows for the ball, which Hurtado calls out. Soumare is in decent position to provide cover but can't get too close in case he must close down Wondolowski should he get the ball. Jeff Larentowicz catches up to the play but does not hold a defensive position yet. Segares positions himself well to close down any of the three attackers.
When the Bounce Doesn't Go Your Way
Much of the defending in the second half was greatly reduced to desperately recovering from disadvantageous position. Still early in the second half there was reason for Frank Yallop to push the game for the tying goal. However, on a smaller field like the one at Buck Shaw Stadium, this often backfires when the ball doesn't bounce your way as we see here.
Sam Cronin sends a long ball forward for Atiba Harris that Segares does well to anticipate and clear away the danger. Unfortunately, much like the first goal, the clearance lands right to Shawn Francis who immediately finds Djalo in space who already has a pass lined up to exploit the out of position fullback.
The pass goes right by Soumare and the defense initiates scramble mode. Harris charges at goal and the defense must reshuffle. Segares is already out of the play because of his failed clearance. Soumare is chasing the play after closing down Djalo. Larentowicz has to recover from midfield after finding space for a pass in the attacking transition. Hurtado must make another difficult decision of closing down the ball or track Wondolowski who is so good at losing defenders through his attacking runs. Palmer must catch up to Salinas charging at the far post.
Once again Hurtado does not cut out the cutback angle most likely to compensate for the lack of speed against Harris should Harris run directly at goal. Wondolowski slows his run at the top of the box to collect the square pass from Harris and to exploit the space left open by Hurtado and Palmer.
Wondolowski shoots as the Fire defense collapses the space. Once again, they are a half step too late and Wondolowski's shot threads the needle. Meanwhile, Larentowicz follows the play ball watching, Harris follows through towards goal, and Segares is nowhere to be found after giving up on the play.
Sean Johnson makes a great save and Harris is the only player near the ball to follow up while the Fire defenders stand and watch. This is absolutely infuriating if you're the manager or one of the fans to make the away trip.
Cutting out the Mistakes in Midfield -- As a Defender
This third goal here really illustrates the frustrations of the night and was the worst goal to take. Coming back from 2-0 down is not impossible but the mistake that caused the third goal really took the wind out of the Fire's sails.
Soumare is positioned to win the ball with no one around to challenge. This is less of a 50/50 ball and more Soumare's ball. However, as Soumare approaches the ball you can see he gets his body mechanics all wrong. He leans back as he approaches the ball in a weak stance instead of leaning into the play in a strong stance.
Predictably, Soumare loses possession and here we go again. Harris gains possession of the ball and bursts forward, Djalo advances to create a 3v2 as Segares pinches in to close down Harris and Hurtado marks Wondolowski.
Wondolowski receives the pass from Harris and again Hurtado must close down the ball without immediate cover. Segares and Larentowicz hurry back well to provide cover and mark Djalo on the far post, but Hurtado recognizes that cutting out the cutback angle on this occasion is unnecessary as Wondolowski likely won't cut back into the retreating cover.
Here's something that confused me, though: where exactly are Larentowicz and Segares going? As Wondolowski slows waiting for Hurtado to lose balance or commit to a challenge, it appears no one helps Hurtado or marks Djalo on the far post.
This view here gives us a better look at Segares' positioning. He's in the spot a center back needs to occupy to clear away a centered cross or a cross to the back post, but it doesn't help the immediate danger of Wondolowski 1v1 against Hurtado. Soumare and Larentowicz are too slow to retreat for either... 1. Soumare to take Segares' spot letting Segares cover Hurtado or... 2. Larentowicz to cover Hurtado.
Ball Watching and Lazy Recovery
To continue the Bakary Soumare power hour, look at how this routine goal kick and 50/50 ball turns into a lightning fast goal. There's not much to break down here other than Soumare's lack of concentration rears its head again.
Hurtado actually wins this 50/50 ball against Wondolowski, but again, the ball bounces right to an Earthquakes player. Djalo collects facing goal but the Fire are positioned well and have a 4v2 numerical advantage.
However, Djalo completely whiffs his first touch and must scramble to gain control the ball. This pulls Soumare in to close down leaving a gap in the back line. Meanwhile, Salinas moves up and Cordell Cato races forward to exploit the space in front of him. The defense is tight, with the exception of the gap created by Soumare, and still retain a numerical advantage as Alex and Matt Watson sniff around for a loose ball.
Here's where the problem comes in: As Cato collects the ball on the right drawing in Segares, Djalo darts into the open space Soumare leaves open as he ball watches. One of two things need to happen at this moment: 1. Soumare needs to retreat to his position on the backline to mark Djalo. 2. Hurtado and Palmer have to recognize the danger of Djalo in that open space and step up even with Segares to trap him and Salinas offside.
Option 1 is much more preferable as it mandates Soumare return to his original position and isn't dependent on two players interpreting the situation in the exact same way. Another alternative would be if Larentowicz abandoned his zone to cover Soumare's ball watching mistake, but you can't do everything for everyone else.
Getting to Know You
Until now the defenders have caused the vast majority of the mistakes, but now we see the Larentowicz and Matt "The Fondler" Fondy get their signals crossed and cough the ball up in midfield.
I suppose this is only normal for teammates still learning to play with each other but communication is critical and would help prevent Fondy and Larentowicz from going after the same ball. In this screencap, Fondy's position is that of a defender as he recognizes too late that Larentowicz will claim the ball. I can draw a solid blue arrow toward the ball to signify a player in position to defend Larentowicz and it would make sense. Instead, Fondy needs to start running toward goal to open up the midfield for Larentowicz to touch and pick out a pass.
Larentowicz's touch gets away from him and he's now tangled with Fondy over possession of the ball. Instead of someone calling out for the ball and the other getting away from the play, they hold each other up while Djalo swoops in, closes them both down, and eventually robs Fondy of the ball. This is thoroughly embarrassing Monday night pick-up stuff. Extra shuttle run to Larentowicz and Fondy for not taking the initiative to communicate.
Djalo runs into the space, Watson closes down the ball, and what else do we see? Well, I try to keep a cold, analytic, emotionless tone throughout these recaps, but we see Bakary Soumare goddamn motherfucking ball watching again. Flat footed too. These are basic principles of defending and Soumare has failed yet again. Hurtado is probably thinking, "Dude, I'm tired of covering your mistakes tonight," as the ball rushes into open space behind the defensive line.
Out of nowhere, Cato rushes into the box and collects a pass from Wondolowski deflected by Segares. I know Cato is a quick guy, but he runs past the Fire centerbacks as if they were standing still. Hurtado has run out of hustle at this point.
Cato recovers well from the ball taking an unexpected bounce off Segares and strikes mid-air. Palmer still tries to close down the shot but he's too late. Good effort from Palmer who was the best defensive player on the night whose only mistake leading to a conceded goal was sending in an aimless cross right before halftime.
The final result on the scoreboard was a disgraceful sight for those of us at the game and Bakary Soumare turned in one of his worst performances in a Fire uniform yet. If this was a 5-a-side performance from someone in the cage at Humbolt Park, I'd ask them to play forward in the next game. I feel for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado who had to repeatedly cover the center of the defense while Soumare made mistake after mistake. I mean, this is how bad it got during the lead up to the second goal.
Shuttle runs. All week. With games at home against Vancouver and Columbus coming up, I expect clean sheets. No excuses.