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"It's all about putting players in the right position to succeed....I want to put people with the right abilities, and the right skillsets in the right positions, and that's it"
That was Paul Mariner back on June 7th in the press conference to introduce him as the new head coach, describing his philosophy and illustrating the back to basics philosophy that would be a change from the perceived overcomplication of Aron Winter's 4-3-3 formation. It makes a lot of sense, but this season hasn't been a case of his actions matching those words, as one of the features of the games since then has been players repeatedly playing out of their strongest positions, a trend that continued last night against the galaxy with more than half of the starting eleven out of position. Unsurprisingly it didn't end well.
In Mariner's defence, injuries to obvious starting players such as Torsten Frings, Danny Koevermans or Eric Hassli have definitely played a part in things getting to that extreme. Another factor is that there's really nothing to lose. The season's over, why not experiment? It's rare to get so many competitive games to try players in different situations and see if they thrive, how adaptable they are, if they're worth keeping around in the squad for next season. Having said all that, it's happened often enough that Mariner can in no way plead that his hand was forced, these experiments are usually very much of his own choosing.
Starting with the defence, there were 3 out of the 4 not playing in what would be considered their natural position. Richard Eckersley of course has been at Centre Back for a long time alongside Darren O'Dea. He's not a disaster there by any means, though LA's third goal really didn't look good on him (he was hardly alone there) as he was unable to hinder Mike Magee and was then left running in completely the wrong direction by Robbie Keane. The main problem with Eckersley in the middle is that TFC miss what he can bring wide on the right, the ability to get forward and support the attack. He's ok at Centre Back, but not better enough than the alternatives (Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams, Ty Harden, Logan Emory) to justify that loss. Paul Mariner has stated often that one of his priorities is to bring in a Centre Back which will presumably allow Eckersley to move back to Right Back, thus improving two positions with one transaction.
Jeremy Hall at Right Back, well that is what it is, continually unimpressive, not great at the back, and not really offering much going forward either. Logan Emory at Left Back? That's another one that makes you groan when you see it on the team sheet, and this week it was totally unnecessary as Ashtone Morgan was back from suspension, but he was pushed up to midfield, more on that decision later.
Aaron Maund was once again played as a defensive midfielder, and once again showed that this experiment very much remains a work in progress, as he seemed oblivious to the danger presented by Juninho, allowing the Brazilian plenty of time about 10 yards outside the box, right where he would ideally be, to launch the blast that was LA's second goal.
One experiment that is producing results right now is Luis Silva upfront. With Eric Hassli again injured, Silva was alonside Ryan Johnson, and though he was by no means all that involved with the game, he again showed his finishing ability. Yes his goal took a deflection on the way in, but the way he controlled the pass and the patience he showed to create the opportunity to get the shot off are very good things. Striker might not be his best position, I'd rather see him in the more traditional number 10 role behind the strikers, but the kid can flat out score, there are worse places to play him.
That pass he received was a gorgeous one that came from Eric Avila, and that's by far the most puzzling of Mariner's decisions. For whatever reason, whether a lack of effort in training or games, or a contract dispute, Mariner clearly doesn't like Avila, often keeping him benched in favour of players such as Andrew Wiedeman or Quincy Amarikwa. It's one thing to play another midfielder in his position, but Ashtone Morgan? Is Avila that bad that it's worth weakening two positions to make sure he stays on the naughty spot?
Morgan in midfield really didn't work out, and not only did it weaken that midfield spot, it also meant Logan Emory had to play at Left Back, weakening the team there, mostly and ironically, by reducing the effect Morgan has on the attack when he can get forward from Left Back. Morgan's very good at supporting the attack, making that run down the outside when the full back is occupied by the wide left attacker, and getting a cross in. Especially when he had Danny Koevermans as a target, Morgan bombing down the Left Wing was a big part of that one stretch where TFC played well this year.
Sounds like he might be a natural to actually play in that left midfield spot then right? Wrong. As well as not really bringing the skills in other areas that an effective midfielder brings, he's not as dangerous going down the flank either. As the main person out there for the full back to focus on, he's much more easily neutralised, especially when Logan Emory is the Left Back, not exactly a threat the opposition would need to be wary of, in the vein of, hmm, who to use as an example here, ooh, I know, ASHTONE BLOODY MORGAN!
Last night's problems, both with the starting lineup and with all the position swapping that his substitutions enforced could easily have been avoided. With just one change in the lineup (Avila for Emory), we could have had those 6 out of position players down to 1, as follows. Hall F: Eckersley, Maund, O'Dea, Morgan; Dunfield, Hall J, Wiedeman, Avila; Silva, Johnson.
There are clearly a lot of problems with an overall lack of talent and depth in the squad, and of course injuries right now are hindering Mariner's ability to put out his preferred side, hopefully Richard Eckersley's potential concussion isn't serious enough to add to those problems, but there's really no reason for Mariner to keep on making it harder for himself.
As a wise man once said: "It's all about putting players in the right position to succeed....I want to put people with the right abilities, and the right skillsets in the right positions, and that's it"
Yes Paul, yes it is. Now do that. Please.