Breaking Down the Breakdowns: Set Pieces

So we're going to do this a little differently today. I've often looked at the breakdowns game by game but in the interest of my brutally busy schedule I'm going to look at the two set piece goals conceded in the last two weeks. Defend the Second Phase

When defending corner kicks the main emphasis is on the direct ball in: mark your post(s), mark your men, watch the short corner and close down if necessary, watch the top of the box from 30 yards in, and get a man in position for an outlet to counter attack or hold possession while the rest of the team regains its shape.

Often we overlook the second phase; when the immediate danger gets cleared away but the attacking team retains possession of the ball for an immediate second attack. Defending the second phase tests the organization, awareness, and communication of the team, all three things the Fire defense have struggled with all season long and those struggles continue with these two goals.

In this first goal, Diego Fagundez takes the first corner from the near side and the Fire defense handles the immediate danger well. Seven attackers position themselves in or around the box and six of them are marked with the exception of Jose Goncalves in position to collect the weak side garbage. 1 Fagundez 1

Bakary Soumare misses the clearing header and Goncalves chases down the loose ball to keep the attack alive. Soumare follows as he's closest to the play and Goncalves is his mark. It's big man vs. big man in the corner, which is both unusual and less than ideal considering Goncalves's comfort with the ball at his feet, agility for a man of his size, and Soumare's lack of pace and quick reactions. Notice Lee Nguyen communicating to his team at this time as Goncalves collects the ball. Everyone in red looks on as Alex moves near the play but not to close down and offer Soumare any defensive cover. 1 Fagundez 2

As Goncalves turns and faces the field with the ball, we see a couple small problems that compound into bigger problems. First, the immediate pressure on the ball from Soumare is good, but not good enough. Soumare angles his body to direct Goncalves toward the end line hoping to eliminate the back pass to recycle possession. The only problem is Soumare is too central to Goncalves still allowing the Revs defender to move or pass in either direction. Alex could help the situation if he covered Soumare or at least cut out the passing lane to the top of the box where Nguyen happens to position himself. 1 Fagundez 3

Here's another angle of this. Soumare looks to position himself much better from this perspective but Alex is still nowhere near the play to offer cover and close the passing lane to the top of the box. Ideally, when Goncalves charges the endline, Alex would leave his cover position to give chase as he is the fastest of the three with Razvan Cocis closing down the direct route towards goal. Notice Matt Watson marking the eventual goal scorer Diego Fagundez here. 1 Fagundez 4

Sure enough, Goncalves manages to poke the ball into that danger area at the top of the box that Nguyen runs into to collect the ball. The tight marking in the box loosens as Watson ball watches and loses Fagundez. Look at Gonzalo Segares here: he notices the space Nguyen has and Sainey Nyassi unable to challenge Nguyen but maintains his position. A player with less positional discipline would close down Nguyen, but Segares still has to anticipate Nguyen taking another touch towards the endline, shooting far post, or passing to Patrick Mullins or Darrius Barnes. 1 Fagundez 5

Instead, Nguyen lobs a cross to the far post where Fagundez finds himself unmarked to head home. The far post cross is always tough to defend as the best case scenario for the defense, besides having the goalkeeper catch the ball, is to glance a header out of play for another corner. Assuming the defender properly marks the attacker, of course. 1 Fagundez 6

The important lesson to take away from this break down is never underestimate the importance of defensive cover. This goal may never have happened if Alex provided better cover as Goncalves would have been forced to take on the playmaker role instead of the in-form Lee Nguyen. The other lesson is remember the threat the corner kick taker presents in the second phase. Often they are left to their own devices and spring up in threatening positions if the defense lacks the awareness to keep everyone marked. All of the defenders in this sequence ball watched and never checked the far post. Just a quick glance over the shoulder and a shout helps solve these problems. Extra shuttle run to Alex and Watson.

Taking the Initiative

This next goal is rather unpleasant to break down as it's completely avoidable and exposes a complete lack of awareness and desire to close out a game. For elite teams especially and playoff teams in general, closing out tight games are an essential part of success and noticing the details and having the indomitable spirit of wanting to win every game, 50/50 ball, tackle, and header from the opening whistle to the final whistle are core characteristics to these teams and is not currently present in the current incarnation of this club.

This sequence starts out with a few things to look at that play a part in this goal. First, let's acknowledge Patrick Nyarko on the near post where he should be. Good job. Next, let's look at the top of the six where Alex marks eventual goalscorer Dwayne De Rosario and Quincy Amarikwa in more of a zonal marking role to cut out any direct low crosses to the penalty spot. Next, we see Lovel Palmer marking Michael Bradley and finally, Nick Hagglund at the top of 18 looking starting from a deep position to attack the ball in a situation we've already seen a couple times before. 2 De Rosario 1

Jackson's outswinger goes all the way to Hagglund who has to waste his running start to back pedal for the header. Cocis challenges the header from a standing position but still loses out to the taller Toronto centerback. A call for a foul here may be warranted as Cocis has the position but Hagglund jumps over his back to win the ball. Besides that, um, what about Bradley and De Rosario who are now completely wide open? Did Sean Johnson call for his defense to clear out? Why is Nyarko still on the post and Segares still marking Gilberto? What the hell is going on here? Why did Palmer and Alex abandon their respective marks? And why isn't Johnson screaming at his defenders to come back for their marks or to Nyarko and Segares to push up to hold the offside line? 2 De Rosario 2

Hagglund's header pops way up into the air allowing Gilberto more than enough time to get under the ball. The problem is Segares had more than enough time to challenge for the header and simply doesn't do it. It's truly disappointing from the Fire's most consistent and aggressive defender especially in the 90th minute with the slim hope of the playoffs in the balance. Meanwhile, Palmer does well to recognize he abandoned his mark and retreats to mark Bradley. Alex ball watches leaving De Rosario wide open and onside right in front of the goal. 2 De Rosario 3

Um, yeah. That's not good. One other thing: with the ball coming in to De Rosario, Johnson steps out to collect but stops short and moves his body up and away instead of down towards the ball. Another disappointing instance of an established veteran not throwing himself at the play with the season in the balance. Go back and look at the replay as the still shots don't fully tell the story. 2 De Rosario 4

Hopes of making the playoffs drifted away a while ago, but this goal, and conceding it in such shambolic style, really hammers home there is nothing left to play for but jobs for next season. Still, I can't get over the disorganization at the back on the initial ball in. Johnson must command his box better and if he doesn't, someone else has to step up to keep everyone on the same page. Shuttle runs for Alex, Segares, and Johnson.