WIWFC Part IV - Making A List, Checking It Twice

At long last, we've come to a final reckoning. There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the status of the roster for next year. Will (Peralta, Kirk, Namoff, Olsen, Doe, hell, even Gallardo, insert player who might possibly be shipped out here) be around come the first week of training camp? Whatever the case, here's my wishlist of the top 5 things I want to see holding up black shirts for the media before we launch the 2009 campaign.

1. Center Backs.

Go ahead, name your starting central defense as of now. Peralta-Janicki? 2nd division Argie + 3rd division domestic brew? And what if Peralta won't take a pay cut? McTavish + Janicki? Burch + McTavish? Christ, I'm gonna be sick.

This is priority #1, not just with a bullet, but with a freakin' tactical nuke.

So where do we do our shopping? Well, the FO's standard answer is to look to Latin America for assistance. Yeah. Remind me again how that went last year. So do we go for Sudamericano Defense Force, Part Deux, or have we tasted enough of that bitter cup of disappointment?

The draft? Well, there does appear to be a fairly strong group of defenders available, but the transition from college to pro is always a crap shoot, so you wouldn't want to bank on it.

Trade? Perhaps, but what are we going to dangle out there as bait? Fred? Emilio? Will anybody take a slightly used and nicked up Gallardo? Do we want them to? If healthy, he'll most likely be one of the best players in the league.

The best I can come up with is some combination of the above. Use one of those first-round picks on a highly rated college prospect. Bring in a vet to add to the foreign legion. Then pad your bet by landing a reasonable MLS journeyman. Of course, given the cap and roster sizes, you might be lucky to get 2 out of 3, though Generation Adidas may be of some assistance if we can land one of those kids in the draft.

2. Forward for depth and variety.

Granted, I'd be tempted to swap this with #3 if we're assured that Doe will be returning, but only just. Right now we've got Moreno and Emilio with Quaranta, Khumalo, and maybe Kirk as our questionable depth. Moreno isn't getting any younger, and Emilio's sophomore effort wasn't up to par, perhaps because he's a one-trick pony (is he really worth a DP slot?). Now, if we can get a fast or physical forward that scares the bejeezus out of defenses, thus creating room for Emilio to poach in, maybe he returns to his best. If he's the only threat for defenses to key on, we're pretty easy to defang.

Of course, all of this flies in the face of my mutterings about single-striker formations. And the fact that fast, physical forwards who can finish consistently are at a premium in MLS. But we need something to threaten defenders with--something to create space and gaps for our technical types to exploit with passing or dribbling runs. Is Walter Martinez this something? could we already be close to ticking off one of the boxes on my list?

Another consideration, even if we do land Martinez, is what we do about having a physical presence up top. We don't have anything, outside of Kirk (if he returns), in the way of big bodies to lump the ball up to if the entire game plan is collapsing around us. In other words, even if the coaching staff was so inclined, they don't have the variety available to go to Plan C if A and B fall flat on their faces. It's not pretty, but it sometimes wins games.

One thing is pretty likely--if there is an answer, it's going to come from outside MLS and the draft. Marcus Tracy might check the box, but will he be around for us to snap up? Unlikely.

3. A box-to-box midfielder.

Yes, we have Simms to hold and Vide for cover, but I'm still hugely unsold on pairing one of the two with Gallardo, Fred, or Quaranta in the middle of the park. And neither really carries the attacking threat, outside of an occasional bomb from distance, to make a Simms-Vide pairing anything to fear either.

Hell, if I thought it was easy to land an energetic, physical box-to-box midfielder who can pass and shoot under the cap without using a DP slot, I'd probably put this up to #2 on the list. As it stands, unless we get rid of Gallardo, it's not going to happen. The best we can hope for is to get lucky in the draft or trade/shop for some depth.

4. Pace and danger on the wings.

Khumalo? We'll see how he pans out. Let's just say that, at the moment, I'm not convinced. Our other wide options would be Fred, Quaranta, Guerrero, Thompson, Cordeiro, and maybe Kirk. There's a bit of guile there, a few hard workers, and maybe one guy who can hit a decent cross. Is it the worst set of options? No. But neither is it one to strike fear in the hearts of defenses around the league.

Again, the issue becomes: where do you find pace and danger to bolster your wing play? That's part of the reason that this entry finds itself so far down on the list. We've got adequate options already, and upgrading may not be feasible, practical, or fiscally responsible. The best bet is to draft speed and hope for Dane Richards.

5. Ben Olsen.

What? But don't we already have him? Sure, but will he be able to return to the field? If he does, that does wonders for our potential depth in midfield, but is there any guarantee that he can pick up significant minutes? Will he have the wheels to cover enough ground as one of two in central midfield, or will he only work in a three-man setup?

What I'm really getting at is general heart and grit, something this team was sorely lacking last year in Ben's absence. Is it possible to draft grit or trade for heart? Perhaps not. But this is a wishlist after all.


So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Got a list of your own? Let's hear it!

Look, I'm not naive enough to think that the FO can land all of the above in a single offseason, nor do I think that MLS can yet afford a roster that features depth and quality from top to bottom. The best you can hope for is to play to your few strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

It also has to be stressed that tearing the whole thing apart and going back to square one isn't a viable or particularly intelligent decision either. When the team was healthy and blended for that short span last summer, they showed signs of quality. Heck, they even padded the trophy case and qualified us for continental competition! Sure, the trophy was the Open Cup, but it was a tournament win after all.

With that in mind, I guess I should amend my list to include what might be the most important change this off-season.

Healthy bodies.


  1. If we play a 3-5-2, then we have Namoff (assuming we sign him), Janicki and Burch on the back line; Vide and Sims as defensive mids, Gallardo in the middle, Guerrero on the left and Quaranta on the right. Moreno and Emilio are up front. Fred can sub in at multiple positions. Guerrero can play at left back as well, giving us some flexibility, and McTavish can also sub in at multiple positions on the back line, at defensive mid or on the right wing. Khumalo and Doe can play up front in both positions, but Martinez would be a good addition. Olsen would give us depth at defensive mid or on the right assuming he is healthy and Quaranta could certainly move up front or sub-in for Gallardo on occasion. In general, we have a pretty good team with some good flexibility, but we need to add some depth at left back and center back in particular (which may be why we are looking at that other Honduran). The keys are: is Janicki good enough to shore up the middle; and will Gallardo be healthy enough to give us a full ninety for at least 20 games and a good seventy for 10 more? If he isn't, then we need to get another playmaker and I wouldn't spend the money on Appiah with his bum knee, seeming inability to get along with club management and purported links to fixing matches for the Ghanaian Olympic and National teams (or at the very least his admitted association with guys who fix matches).

    It all falls apart if Gallardo can't play and Janicki is overmatched.

  2. A couple of issues (well, more than a couple ;-) . . .

    (1) I don't think Quaranta gives you enough defensively in a 3-5-2 to play on the wing.

    (2) Moreno & Emilio and what for depth up top (Doe isn't guaranteed to return and Khumalo can't finish)? Also, Emilio isn't going to be a big danger-man again without the element of surprise (MLS defenses have him sussed) or somebody to stretch the defense and create space for him. Sadly, Moreno isn't that player anymore. Khumalo? Maybe until defenders figure out that he doesn't pick his head up and isn't exactly prolific.

    (3) Is Simms + Vide the best we can hope for as a holding mid pairing? That arrangement lacks drive, creativity and danger, in my opinion. And even if you settle for them, and Olsen returns, we confront the depth problem again.

    (4) Agreed on Appiah--there's something that doesn't smell quite right there. Still, the fact that the FO were willing to talk says something about their commitment to Gallardo, doesn't it?

    (5) You're going to take a chance on handing Janicki the keys based on a month or so of decent performances down the stretch? You've got more faith than I have.

    (6) Do you think a 3-5-2 will still work as a primary formation in MLS? This is an honest question, not a dig. The last holdouts, New England and Chicago, abandoned the 3-5-2 this year, following our abandonment the previous year. As teams became more proficient at counterattacking from wide areas, the 3-5-2 seemed too vulnerable. Not that I don't think there is room for the 3-5-2, I just don't see it as the way forward. I'd be interested to know why you feel it is.

    Yes, we have, outside of a quality center back or two, a fairly strong roster. The scope of our injury crisis, Olsen unexpectedly missing the entire season, and our big-money signing missing large chunks of it made things look worse than they were. What bothers me about settling for a "take two" approach is that (1) it shows no ambition to make the team better, and (2) we're still vulnerable to the same problems--a lack of quality depth and overall team speed.

  3. PS: Thanks for the comment--I appreciate the thought and effort that went into it. Long may it continue!

  4. Other than the obvious center-back issue, I think a speedy wing-player who can cross should be the priority. Seems to me that the current 4-4-2 isn't working terribly well, especially given your analysis of Emilio's second-year funk.

    Assuming these players stick around, I was thinking it might be best to drop Moreno back a bit into further withdrawn position and let him and Gallardo float around the attacking midfield area. Ends up as a 4-1-2-2-1 if that makes sense. Then you have both Fred and Quaranta as depth for Gallardo/Moreno. In fact, probably makes more sense to start Gallardo/Fred. Fred can make his runs to put some pressure on defenses for Emilio to work with. Then you can move to the more familiar withdrawn forward if you sub in Moreno. I think Quaranta can play any of those roles in a pinch.

    Then if you have some speed on the right wing you can have them make runs into the center and swap with Fred at times.

    Still leaves the box-to-box problem, but if Olsen is back that's less of an issue with him at d-mid.

    For what it's worth, this seems to work well in FIFA 08. ;)

  5. The problem with your setup, Andy (if I'm reading your intentions right), is that you've got one central d-mid to cover for two wingers and two attacking mids. That's a lot of ground to cover and necessitates the fullbacks staying home, thus eliminating your wide options. Also, Olsen can't cover that much ground and isn't naturally defensive-minded. He'll need a partner in central midfield, if indeed he can return.

    As for FIFA '08, it doesn't tend to punish width issues as much as it might (thus my phenomenal success with various 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 formations ;-).

    I'm still leaning towards the 4-2-3-1 (generic Spanish formation) as the best possible option given our current players. Van Nistelrooy is a similar type of player to Emilio (a generally box-bound finisher not exactly blessed with athleticism--though RVN does work a bit harder on the defensive end), so maybe pushing the attacking midfield trio high enough to engage defenders will give Emilio more space and opportunity, particularly if you have someone (Moreno, Gallardo, Quaranta) pushed a bit higher than the wide men and making runs (the Raul role) to force decisions from defenders.

  6. Thanks for obliging my requests for a continuation of the WIWFC threads. What I find most striking is the similarity between your lists from 2007 and 2008:

    Your December 2007 priorities were:
    1. Winger
    2. Central defender
    3. Forward
    4. Keeper
    5. Replacement for Gros's energy

    Your December 2008 priorities are:
    1. Central defender
    2. Forward
    3. Holding midfielder
    4. Winger
    5. Replacement for Olsen's heart

    So when you put it in perspective that way, has our front office really made ANY progress over the past year? They TRIED to solve the central defensive problems with Peralta and Martinez, but that failed. I thought the depth at forward problem was solved with Doe, but that seems to be short-lived if he's already back in Ghana. Guerrero provides a little bit of consistency on the wing, but that was a late season addition and he's not the kind of player who any defense is going to fear. The only issue that we have apparently resolved is goalkeeper.

  7. Shocking.

    Thanks for doing the grunt-work, Shatz. There's post-fodder for sure in that sort of consistent assessment of shortcomings. Look for a response tonight or tomorrow--flu bugs permitting.

    Cough, hack, wheeze.