So it's come to this. It's come to the point where we can hold up back-to-back road draws as some sort of moral victory. Not that those draws did us much good in either competition, but at least we've got a tourniquet on the wound, right? Speaking of tourniquets . . . I'm a little surprised that we didn't need a few out on the field tonight. What a brutal game! Not only were the players assaulting each other, but the field was an assault on the eyes and didn't look like it was much fun to play on either. Well, I suppose we should hit those talking points . . .
* Tommy went back to basics. Our near-recovery in mid-season was prompted by the switch to a two d-mid set and a focus on defense first. We saw the 2.0 version rolled out tonight with even more of an emphasis on closing down play. Of the five in midfield, four were of the defensive persuasion, and it showed. Quaranta is at his best creatively when he has others to bounce off. Tonight, he only had a lone forager up front to try and provide for. If we were going to get anything, it was going to come from a quick break or set piece. That said, I was encouraged by the high pressure approach that created some early half-chances. I've been critical on more that one occasion of the fact that Tommy's teams often come out flat in games that demand a performance. Not so tonight.
* There was a distinct decline in the amount of putzing about in possession. Now, perhaps that's due to not having Burch in the middle and sticking Martinez on the bench for most of the match, but the team seemed to make a conscious effort to clear any potential danger rather than letting them morph into chances for the opposition--a fault that's haunted us all season. Central to those efforts was the physical pairing of Janicki and Peralta. I haven't had much chance to see Janicki before, and I didn't notice any glaring errors outside of the one chance he surrendered to DeRo in the first half. He recovered adequately well from that and didn't look lost out there. At 24, we won't be able to offer him a developmental deal next year, but if he can stay consistent, I wouldn't mind giving him a chance to win a spot on the roster. Cheap, relatively young, decent depth is nothing to sneeze at with a salary cap, and considering our lack of defensive depth . . .
* But hold on, Fullback! Haven't you derided Peralta's love of the launched rocket-ball? Aren't you the one who wants to see quick, fluid passing and nice possession? Abso-freakin'-lutely. But, to cling to my cliches--beggars can't be choosers. We need to stop the rot first by keeping things simple and tight at the back. Once we've gotten the leaks plugged, then we can look at starting to wheel the cannons out. Of course, we've got precious little time to come roaring back into the playoff picture. But at this point, I think the focus is on finishing as strong as we possibly can. If that gets us into the playoffs, fantastic. If not, at least we don't leave the season with a completely bitter taste in our mouths--we've got something to start to build on for next year.
* Hmmm, so Crayton (usually) plays the ball well with his feet, makes good reaction saves, but sometimes looks questionable on crosses. Wait! Didn't we have a guy named Rimando that matched that description at one time? To be fair to good Saint Louis, he handles crosses better than Rimando, but, once in a while, he starts flapping at things, and I start to get worried. As for the crazy sweeper-keeper dashes upfield? That's something that I actually don't mind too much, particularly given our lack of speed in the middle of defense with Peralta-Janicki. In the horrifying notional Wellsian World, I spotted at least three through balls that would have left Houston attackers one on one with the Befuddled One. Not so with Saint Louis.
* Was the official to blame for the fact that things got so ugly? I started to get worried in the first few minutes when Mullan was launching himself into people and not even getting a talking to. Could the ref have had more control and perhaps not have had to resort to sending Namoff off? Probably. Should Namoff have walked? It's not like he raised the elbow. Davis was below him, but Namoff did take a bit of a swing. Combine that with the fact that Davis had decked him a few minutes earlier, and it probably looked retaliatory. So I'm indifferent. Some refs send him off, some don't. What I don't get is how DeRo delivers a karate kick to Martinez while sitting on a yellow and doesn't suffer similar treatment. A little consistency please.
So, it could be worse. I'll admit that early in the second, my notes were littered with abject doom-mongering and dire predictions of the coming apocalypse. There's a lot of stuff like "oh crap, they're starting to settle and pick us apart" and "this is going to end badly." Can you blame me, given the run we've been on of late?
I may have buried our chances in my mind a few weeks ago, but we're still on life-support. Is getting Moreno back from suspension and Emilio back from injury enough to help us make a last-gasp surge into the postseason? Probably not. But that won't keep me from tuning in to find out. Who knows? A road draw in Central America and a road draw against one of the hotter sides in the league, both while missing nearly all of our star-power, would have been a decent return at the best of times. Coming as they did in the midst of so much failure . . . the flame is flickering, but it's not quite dead.
(we're not in the ground yet . . . though the pine box is ready and the hole's been dug)