The Goals Did Not Flow, but I am Beyond Excited for What I Saw
Before we dive into the friendly, some context: Jake Rufe, Enzo Martinez, Mikey Lopez, and Neco Brett did not appear in this friendly. Between some small injuries and still in the homeland, we were missing 4 players who could realistically be in our Starting XI.
In terms of finishing, the loss of Neco and Enzo was clear, but it doesn’t change the fact that I believe that goals will be flowing this year.
Starting XI and Its Variations
The Starting XI was pretty straight forward, the only surprise is that Alves started as a defensive midfielder and not at the fullback position. Some may be surprised by Corcoran playing the 10/8, but it’s absolutely in his locker to do so.
But as we all know, there are variations once the match starts and we started seeing some interesting developments at times.
The most interesting one was in the defensive transition, Gabriel Alves appeared to be dropping in deeper, playing almost as a third center back as Mensah and Trialist #7 stayed up a little bit higher to win the ball and spring the counter.
When attacking is when I was the most excited, especially when we saw Mensah getting in on the attack. Moses Mesah is going to be an ISSUE for defenses…
Okay, I know this looks like nonsense, but I will explain. The red shade is the wide space, the blue shade is the center space. That purplish shade is what people refer to as the “half space.” In this friendly, we saw the wingers almost exclusively play in that half space. Some exceptions, of course, but they rarely floated in or out of it in the attack.
So, those pivots? What are up with those? When the ball was worked on the wings, they existed on these pivots. I want to look at an example of arguably the best goal scoring opportunity of the night where Mensah and Kasim worked down the line and Kasim put in a low cross to the back post for Pasher.
And why did this movement work so effectively? Because between Mensah, Kasim, and Pasher, they were CONSTANTLY putting crosses in the air to Agudelo, who was a constant threat in the air. Moses and Kasim were especially dropping in dimes for Agudelo. Because of that, when Kasim got the ball into the “crossing space”, two defenders were pulled into Juan and Kasim just drove it to the back post to a wide open Pasher who skied the ball over the crossbar.
Generally, we were seeing those crosses from these positions, ESPECIALLY where Moses Mensah was crossing the ball. His ability to cross a ball is unreal. I said it in a podcast before, if they let him cross like that, Juan is scoring double digit goals this year. Full stop.
I also think it’s important to note that I think Juan had a good game during the friendly. Some people mentioned that he was dribbling himself into trouble when I could not disagree more. Most of the time he was dribbling “into danger”, he was dribbling and pulling defenders. If you could watch back, you would see him looking up and waiting for a runner to play through. Nobody ever did. I think that is down to lack of chemistry and confidence of other players, not Juan Agudelo.
To end the first half, we went to this 4-2-4 with Pasher playing the Shadow Striker, but without any distribution from the Central Midfield, frankly it looked pretty bad. That said, the Left Wing with Alves and Mensah is a partnership that looks like it could become an amazing relationship.
Originally tweeted by Kaylor Hodges (@KaylorHodges) on February 12, 2023.
In the second half, we brought off Tyler Pasher in favor of Mataeo Bunbury. Mataeo came onto the pitch and looked like the best player on the pitch. The young Canadian came back to the Magic City from the sunny coast of Lisbon, Portugal and showed why he was getting looks from Benfica. After a full 45′ of Bunbury, he may be the player I am most excited about. Seeing him float between striker and winger was quite fun, plus his confidence was incredible.
Look, the trailist that started, #7, was clearly a midfielder playing right back. while he wasn’t bad by any stretch, he was clearly more comfortable working in the attack and in the middle of the park. If I kept up correctly, he was the only player to go the full 90′. From 71′ to the final whistle, he was playing midfield and it was like a completely different player stepped on the pitch.
The #12 was an exciting player who I believe could have a future as an attacking player in the professional ranks. While he did miss a very open net, he did have an ability to get into dangerous spots that had the Huntsville City backline on the ropes for 20′. Will we sign him? Should we sign him? I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if he inks his name for the 3 Sparks.
The right back #2 came in and the fans wanted to sign him after a nice cross into the box. The cross was great and his defensive runs were impressive. Not quite Jonny Dean, but he was really fast. If this were an elementary school rating system, the #2 was absolutely the coolest guy on the pitch. Run fast? You’re the coolest.
I like what I saw tactically. The lack of a right back scares me, but I also think that Jake Rufe will be slotting into that position so we’ll be okay. This will be a new look Legion, despite most of the main characters staying the same. I think this year could be the year to make that deep playoff run.
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