Breaking Down the Breakdowns: at D.C.

Oh boy, here we are again talking about goals conceded. Alright, let’s get to it.

Compensate the Overload

Normally teams will attempt to overload a defense by pushing their fullbacks to overlap the winger and pulling one of their strikers to the channel to give a numerical advantage or to force defenders into making bad decisions. One such way to combat this is to compromise your shape to address the immediate danger.

This instance reminds me of the second goal conceded against San Jose earlier this year when Gonzalo Segares loses out on a 50/50 ball exposing the Fire’s backline. Bill Hamid’s goal kick is perfectly placed as it is too far behind the diminutive Harry Shipp to get the ball and drags Segares to challenge for the header against United forward Fabian Espindola and forcing Jeff Larentowicz (#3) and Patrick Ianni (#2) to slide over to mark the other overloading forward Eddie Johnson and the wide positioned Nick DeLeon. A giant gap opens between Ianni and Lovel Palmer for the D.C. attack to exploit.1 Pontius 1

DeLeon collects Espindola’s header and holds the ball expecting Johnson to
1. attack the wide open space or
2. bisect the centerbacks to run onto a through ball.
Instead, Johnson chooses door number 3 and overlaps DeLeon, which is probably the smartest option since Ianni covers Larentowicz well enough to cut out the through ball.

Meanwhile, the gap between the center back and right back still exists. If I were Matt Watson I would abandon my central midfield zone to fill that gap allowing Palmer to mark Chris Pontius on the weak side. 1 Pontius 2

With the Fire defense retreating and in a 3v3 situation, the margin for error does not exist. Larentowicz shepherds Johnson into making a cross taking away the surprise scenario of a cutback, Ianni retreats and sticks close to DeLeon but is really out of the play, and Palmer tracks Pontius until taking the position of the center back atop the six yard box while Pontius ghosts to the far post.1 Pontius 3

Johnson’s cross is dead on the money. DeLeon starts celebrating before the ball even hits Pontius’ head. The overload worked. 1 Pontius 4

Staying Out of Pressure

When distributing as a defender, large amounts of time and space greatly help when trying to pick a pass to build the attack. There’s a reason defenders defend instead of attempting to dribble through players or play killer balls. Dribbling into that time and space is like going to The Oakwood after closing out The Globe. You’re going to try to force the replays out of your mind as you think back in shame and avoid eye contacts from your teammates the next day.

In this first screenshot we see Ianni with the ball at his feet with the time and space to comfortably distribute to any one of four open teammates with Kyle Reynish back as an additional safety option.2 Johnson 1

Instead, he makes the grave mistake of dribbling into pressure triggering D.C.’s high press and the Fire attack to get open for an easy pass largely do nothing. Let’s take a look at Ianni’s options now:
1. Palmer is still open, but Ianni can’t see that and would need to completely turn around or do a Blanco-esque heel pass.
2. Go all the way back to Reynish for the safest pass.
3. Larentowicz is still open but Chris Ritter is now obstructing the passing lane and…
4. …draws Johnson with him.
5. Segares starts attacking the wing running away from the play.
6. Harry Shipp is open for a pass if Ianni passes behind him away from his mark.
7. Matt Watson calls for the ball stationary behind Espindola and with a man marking him.
8. Alex is on the field for some reason.
9. Quincy Amarikwa is too far removed from the play to be an option.
10. Florent Sinema-Pongolle is wearing number 99 and allegedly exists.2 Johnson 2

Yeah, whoops. Truly Fedora-esque from Ianni there. Still, there’s defending to do and Larentowicz could close down Johnson’s right foot forcing the play to go wide and to Reynish’s near post. However, committing to that aggressive step could allow Johnson to burst forward with speed and in on goal against Reynish.2 Johnson 3

Instead, Eddie Johnson cuts back and has the whole goal to shoot at. 2 Johnson 4So there we are. Two more goals conceded in this nightmare season. Ianni is completely to blame for dribbling into pressure even though Ritter deflects the pass to Larentowicz. Shuttle run for Ianni.

FuegoCast #58: Lacking in Attacking

It’s only Gregg and Rudy this time as they review the Fire’s 2-0 loss in Kansas City, preview the penultimate game of the season at D.C. United, take a look at the MLS playoff picture, talk about the kids on loan, and, of course, the usual… well… actually, no Tweets and Huddalis this time.

Also, Rudy updates the Sporting Park security situation and gives his Kansas City sandwich recommendations, Gregg has feline difficulties, assigns homework to the listeners, and plugs the official airline of Fuego de mi Vida.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelist: Rudy Gomez
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 49:47

FuegoCast #57: Record Breakers

The gang returns to discuss the Fire’s record breaking 17th draw at Philly and 18th draw against Montreal, discuss who is severely lacking production after Stephen shares a mind-blowing stat, preview Friday’s match at Kansas City, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Rudy and Stephen share their night in Philadelphia together, Stephen tries to guess The Vacuum’s heritage exciting Rudy, Elle had some beers at the Montreal game, Rudy and Stephen plan their ride into the afterlife together, and Stephen flexes his newfound American First Amendment right.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott, Elle Harrer
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 56:24

FuegoCast #56: Filthy de mi Vida

The gang returns to talk about the Fire’s aggravating 2-0 loss at Houston, preview the midweek match at Philadelphia and the Sunday home match against Montreal, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Rudy shares his preference of brisket, Stephen is close to earning a new nickname, Rudy prepares for his birthday match with Stephen incoming, Gregg prepares for his birthday match with an impending purchase, Rudy and Stephen blow the gates to the Filth Dimension wide open before the Tweets and Huddalis section, and Nick takes time from his killer work schedule to make a cameo appearance only to leave the call broken hearted.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott, Elle Harrer
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 57:06

FuegoCast #55: Hands Are Tied

The gang returns to discuss the 3-3 draw at home to D.C. United, decide who should be protected in the upcoming Expansion Draft, preview the upcoming game at Houston, look at the inevitability of smashing the draw record, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, a stranger calls in for Nick, Stephen’s affections turn aggressive, Gregg chooses unfortunate phrasing for exercising a contract option, Stephen exits from the podcast early, Ellen takes Stephen’s place to make ultra-realistic predictions, Rudy has an odd investment for allocation money, and Ellen draws a harsh line for CONCACAF Champions League teams to not root for.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott, Elle Harrer
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 45:43

FuegoCast #54: Mistakes Were Made

The gang returns to discuss the depressing 1-1 home draw against Toronto FC, skip past the last edition of Player Insanity for a while, preview the upcoming home match against D.C. United, quickly review the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League action, and, of course, the usual Tweets and Huddalis.

Also, Elle is away punching things probably fueled by the Fire’s result, Stephen ruins the start of the show, Stephen renames D.C. United’s next CONCACAF Champions League opponents, Gregg abandons the show midway through, Gregg makes strange noises impersonating mad creatures, and the gang admits their lack of fitness.

Host: Gregg Mixdorf
Panelists: Rudy Gomez, Stephen Piggott
Producer: Nick Fedora

TRT: 48:03

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.