Face facts. The reason we won this match is because Davy Arnaud, given two chances with the goal at his mercy, twice pushed the ball wide of the post. Yes, there were other 'Zards who had chances, some of them even pretty good, but Arnaud's two were the clearest chances created by either side. For large portions of this match, United were outplayed and out-hustled, yet somehow they emerged with three points. It's that old Christmas morning feeling. You got the gift you really, really, oh-so-desperately wanted, but it doesn't quite feel satisfying.
* Fragile doesn't quite describe it. Holy crap were there gaps at the back! Gaps? More like yawning chasms. Of course, some of that was to be expected, given that we've got two starters on the shelf (Burch and Jakovic) and a third (James) who is raw and still new to the team. Burch missing doesn't hurt quite as much, given that Wallace (more later) and John can do the same reasonable impression of defense that Burch gets away with. But Jakovic is a huge loss. His calm on the ball, anticipation, reading of the game, and ability to clean up messes can't be replicated by whatever converted midfielder Tommy decides to throw at the problem. Thankfully, it looks like we may only have to survive the visit of Seattle without him (the Champions' League has long since been tossed under the bus), given that our next league match after this weekend will be the 27th versus the Quakes. That's right near the end of the 2-3 week recovery period. Here's hoping he makes a Simms-like recovery!
* Was that width I saw? Sure, the moments were few and far between, but there were a couple of instances of fullbacks overlapping the wide midfielders, highlighted by a dangerous chance from Wallace where he got in alone on goal. He didn't finish it, but the promise of his speed and energy were there for all to see. Now, if we could just land a coach who doesn't ruin young defenders...
* Diamonds are not Gomez' best friend? Where was he? I kept looking, but all of the attacking midfield action seemed to be dominated by Moreno dropping deep. It wasn't really much of a shock to see him come off at the half, but what you might not have noticed was that Gomez became immediately more involved once Tommy made a shift after the goal. He pulled Pontius inside to pair Simms in the center of midfield, pushed Moreno onto the right flank, and stuck Gomez up top, playing off of Emilio. Considering that the only moments where he did anything useful came as a support forward or on the couple of occasions where he dropped into a deeper midfield role, I wonder if we can just put the diamond midfield (at least with Gomez at the ponta de lança to bed? Pontius and Quaranta (and Fred for that matter) seem to thrive more when two holders allow them greater freedom to push forward on the wings. Given how effective Moreno was (and generally has been) in playing as a withdrawn forward and how much his ability to be composed on the ball gives us options going forward, I wonder if Tommy might just start rotating the two (Gomez and Moreno) in that role (works for me on Football Manager), although...
* The power of pairs. If you'll notice, we seem to have pairs of attackers who generally pick each other out fairly well and play off each other. Quaranta + Pontius is the most obvious example, though Gomez and Moreno combine pretty well too, and Fred and Emilio seem to have some sort of samba simpatico. The question becomes, how many of these pairs do we want to try to have on the field together? At the very least, thinking both of the future and the danger that energy and desire bring, I think we need to see Quaranta and Pontius together, preferably with one of them as a forward.
* Questions for Tommy. I know that Julius James was committing some dumb fouls in bad positions, but how does replacing him with Avery John fix that problem? Also, if you're complaining about defensive shape, how is the right plan to put two converted midfielders (I know McTavish is a hybrid, but he's more of a mid to my mind) in the center of defense with Wallace (energetic, but often a headless chicken) and Olsen (smart, but hobbled) for midfield cover? James may not have been ideal, but I don't think either of those changes created any significant change. If anything, we should be thankful that the 'Zards couldn't get their act together to finish us off.
* Your DP dollars at work. Sure, Emilio poached the one that got the job done, but did he do much of anything else besides miss on two late chances? Frankly, we need a forward who does more than just hang around waiting for chances to come his way. Even when Emilio bothers to make testing runs, he's not quick enough to unsettle defenses, pulling them deep to create room in the hole behind him where a supporting forward or midfielder can operate. Kinda makes you wonder what might have been if we hadn't lost the battle for Walter Martinez in the pre-season, eh? Maybe I don't like that he seems to dive and whine too much (for both Honduras and Marathon), but he does bring a willingness and energy to run as well as quickness and finishing ability. I just wonder what impact some of our more creative types (Gomez, Moreno, Quaranta) might have with a willing, active runner pulling defenses out of shape and eager to get on the end of through balls.
How about a steaming helping of quick hits?
* As soon as we got the goal, Tommy went 4-4-1-1, pulling Pontius inside to hold beside Simms. Then he pulled the halftime trigger once again, ensuring an even deeper central midfield pair by introducing Olsen. Any surprise we were being outshot nearly 2-to-1 by the hour mark? In our house? Against a team in relegation form?
* Moreno was the most active and dangerous of the initial attacking trio. Still, it was worrying to see some of his late petulance (kicking the ball out of play when he didn't get a foul call, leaping up to confront Myers after being taken down).
* We rode our luck. Hard. Lucky Arnaud couldn't finish. Lucky they couldn't find net on a couple of goal-mouth scrambles. Lucky Vaughn kept his whistle quiet on some questionable contacts in the box. Lucky Gomez went off injured for them as Myers couldn't match his production. Lucky all around.
* Wicks spills too many long shots and spills them into dangerous areas. Would you protect him from the expansion draft? I wouldn't.
* There were one or two moments when we showed flashes of quality. Those moments were either the result of overlapping fullbacks or when the front four went fluid, interchanging positions and hitting one-touch stuff while one of the holding mids made a run from deep.
So let's count our blessings and see what the weekend brings. Despite having gotten lucky here, we did get three points, putting down an important marker that our rivals for those final playoff spots must match this weekend. We have the added benefit (though our fitness will be taxed) of getting another chance at Seattle. Another home win there, combined with a loss from one of the other teams level on points with us, would see us five points clear of Seattle and six points clear of whoever else loses. Sure, this notional rival would have games in hand, but 5-6 points is a big psychological margin at this point of the season, maybe even a necessary one given that we'll have to watch from the sidelines next weekend...