Breaking Down the Breakdowns: vs. Charlotte

Hello again fans, I'm back to write about more defensive breakdowns. Let's take a look at Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup win in which our Men In Red conceded a fifth minute goal. Navigate the Learning Curve

I really wanted to take break down this goal because it is another sign of a developing defense with youngsters Matt Polster at center back and Chris Ritter in the midfield. I haven't seen much of the team this year because of my overwhelming work schedule, but I already broke down a Matt Polster mistake from the season debut against Los Angeles and wanted to look further at another hard knock lesson. This may seem like I'm being harsh on the kids highlighting another mistake, but it's honestly quite the contrary. We've all been encouraged by Polster's play this year and seeing him and Ritter log more minutes on the field will reap long term rewards, especially if they learn from situations like this.

So let's establish where everyone is positionally. We have, right to left, Lovel Palmer at right back, Polster and Adailton at center back, and Greg Cochrane at left back with Ritter and Matt Watson in the central midfield and Sean Johnson back in goal.

1 Zahorski 1

Here we see Polster aggressively step into the midfield from his position on the backline to intercept a pass. Well done, son.

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Unfortunately, his interception goes directly to Paolo DelPiccolo who quickly outlets to Jorge Herrera to start the counter attack. With Polster out of position and beaten, the back four becomes a back three with Palmer and Cochrane pinching in to cover Adailton.

1 Zahorski 3

Adailton does well to stop the immediate counter attack as Ritter and Polster both drop back to cover the empty space Adailton vacated when stopping the play. The fluidity of the play sees Adailton at right back, Polster and Ritter at center back, and Palmer applying pressure to the ball.

1 Zahorski 4

Charlotte retains possession of the ball and now Alex Martinez finds time and space to pick his head up to make a play. We see Herrera dropping into the midfield with no one around him and Tomasz Zahorski on the inside of Cochrane's shoulder calling for a long ball put in the huge gap between Cochrane and Polster. This is where the unfamiliarity of the defense and inexperience of Polster and Ritter shows itself.

A decision has to be made, and quickly, at this time: Should Ritter or Adailton close down Herrera? Adailton was closer to Herrera and Ritter was in position to provide cover at center back during the retreat, but Ritter starts returning to his midfield position leaving the heart of the defense completely vulnerable. Either Ritter has to stay in position to cover allowing Adailton to close down, or Polster has to slide over to close the gap between him and Cochrane allowing Adailton to return to the defensive line. The defense is now off balance over committing to the near side with an attacker in an advantageous position over Cochrane and Andrew Ribiero on the far side starting a run to the weak side flank. Cochrane would have been able to address Ribiero's run if he had Ritter or Polster next to him to track Zahorski.

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Zahorski receives the through pass and attacks the goal with Ribiero well behind the defense, and offside, but available for an easy square ball tap in.

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Of course, I don't like seeing defensive mistakes, but these are the kind of mistakes I classify under "acceptable growing pains" of our future generation. Show the kids the tape, teach them, encourage them, and this kind of problem will happen less frequently. Nothing about this was careless or lazy or from a veteran who should know better. It's a sign our boys still have much to learn and will continue to progress as long as they see meaningful game time.

But still, shuttle runs, fellas.