Rhythm and chemistry. You've heard Head Coach Ben Olsen and Assistant Coach Chad Ashton say it over and over this preseason. With so many new faces on Black-and-Red, it was clear from the beginning that everyone had to learn each other's habits and tendencies quickly; and last night, in a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo, relationships began to form.
"I think you see improvement in terms of our team shape and knowing each other’s habits a little bit more, especially on the defensive side of the ball," said Ashton. "On the offensive side of the ball, there still needs to be a little more click in terms of what guy’s habits, are and the runs they make, and what they will do habitually, and guys will start to look for that. I think we’re moving that along a little bit."
Our first two tallies of preseason are proof that we are improving offensively, and defensively, our starting lineup continues to post zeroes on the scoreboard.
"Defensively it was good. Our shape was good," Ashton observed. "[Houston is] a team that is one of the best in the League at set pieces, and we held them for 5, 6 corners straight. It is great practice for us. Overall, very happy with the first group."
With the veteran leadership of Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke at the middle of the back and 5th year Black-and-Red goalkeeper Bill Hamid, it is a great sign that our defensive shape is improving and, from front to back, we look organized behind the ball. Our organization and discipline defensively will give our attackers time to find their rhythm, though Ashton expressed a need to be able to keep possession longer, making our opponent have to defend for longer stretches.
"There are still times where we need to keep the ball for longer periods, but we looked dangerous in the counter. If we keep good shape, and when we go, we go with good numbers, and we are dangerous, then I think we’re fine with that," said Ashton. "There are times, longer stretches of the game, we want to keep the ball and force the other team to defend a little bit more."
But the relationships are forming. When we win the ball and keep it, we give time for our attacking threats to ignite their creativity and do what they do.
"I would say as a group, Eddie [Johnson], Fabian [Espindola], Nick [DeLeon], Davy [Arnaud] and Luis [Silva] were dangerous together. At times, I thought the partnership of Arnaud and Sean Franklin looked like it could become very dangerous," said Ashton. "So, some exciting things, but we still have work to do."
Still having work to do in preseason is expected, but we can celebrate the goals and the win a little bit. The first goal came from a willingness to get forward, and the second from a great ball from Victor Munoz and desire to be the first to the ball from Michael Seaton.
"It was a great ball by Munoz over the top that resulted in Seaton’s goal. Again, even though the first goal is an own goal, we’re going with numbers, and it’s going to be a dangerous ball if the defender doesn’t get his head on it."
We're only one game into the Carolina Challenge Cup and less than two weeks from our home opener against the Columbus Crew. But building relationships and finding an identity is what preseason is for. And Ashton is sure it will come with time.
"When you play with guys, it's kind of like a quarterback - wide reciever relationship. You begin to know each other’s thoughts without having to communicate them. We’re just not there yet. You can see that. Guys are thinking a zig and it’s a zag. That takes time, and that takes understanding between guys of what they’re gonna do. And that will come with time," Ashton explained. "Overall, very pleased with the performance."