Strikers 0 – Atlanta Silverbacks 1

Atlanta capitalized on a late game mental lapse and snuck out of Lockhart with a win.

Strikers

Johnson (Willis)     King (Hassan)

Salazar

Pecka     Gonzalez (Restrepo)

Stahl

Guerrero     Chavez     Thomas     Guillaume

Atlanta

Luna (James)

Mendes (Gulley)                   Carr (Cruz)

Barrera     Menjivar

Blanco

Hunt     Navarro     Lancaster     Bloom

Nasco

The Strikers came out in a 4-3-1-2 with Stahl holding instead of Pecka who was moved to the left.   The similar players King and Johnson were paired at forward, perhaps with the intention of pressuring the Atlanta centerbacks with speed.  Guerrero and Guillaume, the now entrenched fullbacks, started outside.  And Chavez, the more feisty of the young centerbacks, started to the left of Thomas.

Atlanta came out with 4-3-3 that tended to look more like a 4-5-1 in that Carr and Mendes stayed further back to prevent the advance of the fullbacks.  Most of Atlanta’s strategy seemed to be to hoof the ball to Luna and hope for the best.

Early in the game the Strikers dominated possession, especially in the crowded midfield.  However, this caused the Strikers’ attack to narrow.  The Strikers of two or three years ago would have recognized and shifted the attack to the flanks but the able but aging Guerrero and anxious and unsure Guillaume wouldn’t commit to the attack.  Guillaume ventures in particular were lacking vigor.  Furthermore, as Gonzalez seemed incapable of switching play, the Strikers found themselves stuck in center channels and were easily thwarted by Atlanta’s centerbacks.

In the second half, Atlanta pushed up Mendes and became in effect a 4-4-1-1.  Obviously, they were attempting to reassert control over the middle of the field; indeed, the Strikers ceased to be as dominant with Stahl unable to receive and turn at will.  The problems of opening the play led to the substitution of Gonzalez for Restrepo.  This change required a shift in formation since Restrepo is not the kind of midfielder for the diamond midfield.  The Strikers changed to a 4-2-3-1 with Pecka and Stahl holding the right and left respectively, and Johnson wide left and Restrepo wide right.  Eventually Hassan would enter for the hard-running King.

The game seemed headed for a draw when the Strikers were undone.  Off a throw-in the Atlanta sub Kellen Gulley turned and found Horace James making a long, off-the-ball run from left side and between Guerrero and Chavez.  Thomas and Chavez, caught flat, were slow to react to the run coming across their backs.  Glaeser rushed out and, in an attempt to win the ball, took the legs out from James.  Glaeser was duped on the penalty, and Atlanta walked away with the game and to the top of the NASL standings.

Strikers 1 – Minnesota United FC 2

The Strikers couldn’t secure an early lead and fell to Minnesota in another dreadful road loss.

Strikers

Johnson     King

Pecka

Ramos     Gonzalez (De Mujica)

Stahl

Arcila (Hassan)   Gordon     Thomas (Antonijevic)     Guillaume

Glaeser

Minnesota

Griffin (Wall)    Campos

Bracalello     Takada     Arguez     Ibarra (De Dilva)

Davis     Tobin (Dias)    Altman     Kallman

Van Oekel

In the 10th minute King scored after he pressured a backpass to the Minnesota keeper, who was unable to clear the ball in time.  A Scott Gordon handball and a late Campos strike were all United needed to send the Strikers back to Fort Lauderdale with the baggage of another road loss to check at the airport.

Strikers 1 – Carolina Railhawks 1

The Strikers couldn’t hold the lead as the Railhawks struck late for a draw.

Strikers (2-2-4)

Restrepo     King

Salazar

Guerrero     Gonzalez

Pecka

Arcila     Antonijevic     Chavez     Gordon

Attinella

Carlina Railhawks (3-3-1)

Ortiz

Da Luz     Shriver     Shipalane

Greenfield     Millington

Ababio     James     Rutkiewicz     Graye

Fitzgerald

The Strikers, who have been hit with a number of injuries, fielded a make-shift line-up.  The absence of Toni Stahl and and Anderson is critical, but the newer and younger backline was most noticeable.  According to Coach Daryl Shore, the players were in the line-up based on recent good form.

The Strikers opened the scoring when Scott Gordon got on the end of a Manny Gonzalez free kick and sent the ball in at the near post.  A second goal wasn’t coming, and as a consequence the Railhawks grew more aggressive as the game progressed.  But their aggression wasn’t punished, it was a poorly conceived elbow by attacking midfielder Salazar that was spotted the referee and drew a red card.  The man-advantage allowed the Railhawks to gain control of possession and to push for the tying goal.  The Strikers then had a stroke of luck as the Railhawks‘ Rutkiewicz received his own red card for assaulting King from behind.  But the time with the advantage had already given the Carolina the confidence it needed, and they seldom relinquished possession of the ball.  Eventually, they were undone by the speedy former Striker Shriver whose penetrating runs off the ball couldn’t be picked up by the determined yet slower Striker centerbacks.  Shriver got on the end of a through ball and finished cleanly to salvage the draw.

US Open Cup: Strikers 0 – FC Dallas 2

The speed and size of MLS-leading FC Dallas were too much for the Strikers, who conceded in the US Open Cup’s third round.

Strikers

Restrepo     King

Salazar

Pecka     Gonzalez (Hassan)

Stahl  (Johnson)

Guerrero (Arcila)    Gordon     Thomas     Guillaume

Glaeser

FC Dallas

Perez     Hassli (Ferreira)

Castillo     Michel     Warshaw (Nunez)    Watson

Benitez     Zimmerman     John (Hedges)    Woodbury

Seitz

The two teams approached the game with two very different mindsets.  FC Dallas took a two pronged approach.   They would attempt to ball the ball deep to the tower Hassli who would flick on to the supporting attacker to take advantage of team size or they would attack down the flanks and use the speed of their wings to break down the Strikers.   The Strikers, on the other hand, attempted to control the center of the field a diamond midfield and allow two forwards of different qualities (tricky Restrepo and speedy King) to pressure Dallas’ central defenders.

The Strikers attacked with energy early in the game, and they almost went ahead as Restrepo chipped an out of position Seitz but hit the bar.  Moments later, Dallas almost scored as a blazing run from the left wing led to a shot that had Glaeser beat but that nicked the crossbar and missed.   From there the game ground, and Dallas’s size and speed began to exert control over the match.   Unfortunately, an injury to Stahl wrecked havoc with the Strikers formation.   With Stahl removed, the midfield shuffled, and the Strikers were stuck with four undersized midfielders.  Pecka doesn’t have the presence to challenge an MLS side, Johnson more of a wide player than a carillero.  In the 59th minute a midfield giveaway led to a Dallas counterattack.  Minutes later, the Strikers’ bane this season—the set piece—returned and Dallas secured the victory with a soft goal from a very long free kick.

Although the Strikers didn’t win, they hung tough against a quality MLS side.  But the most interesting aspect of the game was the reemergence of the diamond midfield as showing to offer the Strikers distinctive attacking advantages and fitting the personnel better than the 4-2-3-1.   Hopefully, the Strikers can bring in Rubens, who played the position against FC Edmonton, to solidify the best attacking formation for the Strikers.

Strikers 1 – FC Edmonton 0

A Carlos Salazar penalty kick gave the Strikers their first road victory of the year.

Although the Strikers had the opportunity to go up early, the Edmonton substitute keeper Smits stopped a poorly placed Dimitrov penalty.  From then it, the Strikers attempted to press the numerical advantage while the Eddies fought for the tie.

Strikers (2-1-4)

De Mujica (King)    Dimitrov (Hassan)

Salazar

Ramos (Stahl)    Gonzalez

Rubens

Arcila     Antonijevic     Chavez     Guillaume

Attinella

FC Edmonton (2-2-3)

Cox     Fordyce

Saiko     Proctor    Nurse     Garrett (Mirabelli)

Laing         Mitchell (Leroy)     Watson     Edward

Parker (Smits)

U.S. OPEN CUP: Strikers 1 – Laredo Heat SC 1 (PK 7:6)

What appeared early on to be a cakewalk turned into a desperate fight for survival as the Strikers held on to nip the visiting USL side SC Laredo Heat on penalties.

Strikers

King

Salazar (Ramos)    Anderson     Restrepo

Pecka (De Mujica)    Gonzalez

Guerrero     Stahl     Thomas     Guillaume

Glaeser

Laredo Heat SC

De la Garza (Lopez)       Kocic        Garza (Navarro)

Ibarra-Trevino     Barbosa

Mulamba

De Armas     Botero     Souza     Hernandez

Frias

The Strikers line-up indicated the personnel that will probably, once all are healthy, take the field for the Strikers in the latter part of the season.  Only Salazar, who would be replaced by Johnson, was the odd inclusion.  King was the lone striker, and without a legitimate target man—the Dimitrov experiment has been a failure—it seems that the Strikers will opt for speed in depth.   Eventually, King’s speed would lead to the Strikers first goal.  The 4-2-3-1 did at times appear to act as a 4-4-2 with Anderson free to roam and press alongside King when necessary.

Laredo, displaying a winning attitude, came out in a 4-3-3 that, as the game went on, became more noticeable for the compactness of its midfield trio, especially Mulamba, than for its attack, which mostly consisted of long balls to Kocic.

Most of the game was dominated by the Strikers.  Laredo simply couldn’t maintain possession of the ball long enough to wrest control away.  The speed and accuracy of the Strikers’ movement was the difference.  However, the Strikers couldn’t score.  The more time that lapsed the more confident Laredo became.  Only a turnover in the 54th minute led to the first goal.  Anderson pressure and won the ball in the midfield, fed the ball to a breaking King, who found Anderson at the end of a run in front of an open goal.  But push on as they might the Strikers could not find another.  In the 83rd minute, Laredo scored off of a corner kick.   The Strikers’ impotence meant one thing: Overtime.

Neither team managed to break through in the OT periods, so it went to kicks, where Glaeser redeemed himself after a string of less-than-impressive performances.   With the score tied 6-6, Glaeser saved two in a row.  The first to the right.  Guillaume then had a chance to win for the Strikers, but his shot to the lower right hand corner was palmed away by the Laredo keeper.  Glaeser, picking the opposite side, dove left and snuffed out Laredo eighth shot.  Toni Stahl calmly walked to the spot and sent the Strikers through.

Now the Strikers have what they want: a third round game against an MLS club, the league-leading FC Dallas.

Strikers 1 -San Antonio Scorpions 3

Defensive lapses dommed the Strikers as they fell to lowly San Antonio, gifting the Scorpions their first win of the year.

Strikers (1-1-4)

Dimitrov

Johnson (De Mujica)    Anderson     Restrepo

Stahl     Gonzalez

Guerrero     Gordon (Salazar)     Thomas (Chavez)     King

Attinella

San Antonio (1-2-3)

Bayona (Vasilic)

Saavedra (DeRoux)    Jordan (Jennings)     Ramirez

Phelan    Husic

Vucko     Williams     Wagner     Martin

Vuolo

The Strikers returned to the ineffective 4-2-3-1 that has been the usual formation.  A goalless Dimitrov started up top, with Anderson as the playmaker.  The injury to Pecka pushed Stahl forward, and Gordon completed the central left back position.  Worrisome, however, was the placement of King at right back because of the absence of Guillaume due to a red card.

Indeed, less than a minute into the game a cross from the King’s side led to a header on goal.  Attinella made a fine reaction save, but the rebound dropped at the six yard line.  Saavedra tucked away the ball.  From there the game was fairly uneventful.  The Strikers lacked any real combination play and resorted to often to the long ball.  In the 54’ minute some miscommunication led to a missed clearance and the Scorpions were up two.   The Strikers answered immediately, with Gordon stabbing home a ball off a corner.  Unfortunately, the Strikers’ comeback was thwarted by goalscorer Gordon’s own goal.  A San Antonio cross slipped by the attacker and a recovering Gordon was unable to avoid contact, and the ball slipped under Attinella.

Against the weakest team in the league (or what was the weakest team) the Strikers lacked attacking bite, suffered the inability to create chances, much less finish them.

Strikers 2 – Minnesota United FC 1

The revamped Strikers earned their first win of the season.  After going up early, the Strikers outlasted a rain-delay and shorthanded situation to invigorate their spring campaign.

Strikers (1-1-3)

Anderson (Dimitrov)     Foley

Johnson     Stahl     Gonzalez     Restrepo (Salazar)

Guerrero     Gordon     Thomas     Guillaume

Attinella

Minnesota United FC (2-2-1)

Campos     Barbara

Bracalello     Pictchkolan     Reed (Arguez)    Ibarra

Davis     Dias     Altman     Kallman

Sattler

The Strikers were almost an entirely different team than the ones that have taken the field in recent weeks.  This game saw the introduction of Haitian International Stephane Guillaume, the reintroduction of Scott Gordon, a start for Walter Restrepo, the appearance of one-time adversary Attinella, and the first professional game from local product Manny Gonzalez.    The 4-4-2 gave some stability to the midfield; Stahl played more of a destroying role, while Gonzalez, who was not attacking outright, gave some motor and creativity to the game with quick distribution and clever passing.  He and Stahl switched positions, organized themselves well, and were seldom caught out.   Although it’s his first game, Gonzalez appears to be the first true central midfielder (besides Pecka) put on the field this year.  Guillaume is a natural fullback, and his comfort there could be felt across the pitch.  Perhaps the most important addition was the selection of Attinella to start in goal.   Over the course of the game, he repeatedly came up big, saving his new teammates from an ignominious collapse.

The game started quickly. In the second minute Anderson put the Strikers ahead with a deft cut and snap shot to lower right corner.  His chest-pounding celebration and beeline for Coach Daryl Shore seemed to suggest that the doubts surrounding the coach are not unnoticed in the clubhouse.  In the 14th minute Foley, who’d been signaling for the backline to play some long balls, outran his defender and coolly finished past the Minnesota keeper.  The Strikers had control of the match and were flying high, but the clouds rolled in and brought with them lightning.  The fourth official halted the match for an hour-long delay.

The remainder of the first half was uneventful, except for some squabbling amongst Minnesota.  In the second half, Minnesota began making changes to get back some momentum.  Bryan Arguez entered as a defensive mid to allow the rest of the team to push forward.   Most of Minnesota’s strategy consisted of whipping the ball into Pablo Campos.  The Minnesota saw a glimmer of hope after Guillaume was shown his second yellow for an ugly-looking but definitely malice-free challenge.  (He earned the first yellow on a silly handball; in fact, the first yellow was delayed for minutes as Minnesota was given advantage.)  Now the ten-man Strikers had to hang on for thirty minutes.   Campos finally scored after getting on the end of a cross.  Enter Attinella.  He made two critical saves toward the end of the match.  In the first, he stopped Campos point blank.   Minnesota kept pushing, and Strikers, more and more packed into their own half, fought desperately to clear the attack.  With about five minutes remaining, Attinella impossibly parried a Bracalello volley over the bar.  The Strikers almost sealed the game was Dimitrov found himself with a clear shot on goal from the top of the eighteen, but he shot too high.   The sound of the whistle was a welcome relief.  The Strikers won their first of the year, and, more importantly, showed that they have the players to compete.

Many of the questions posed last week were answered:

  1. Glaeser appears to be thoroughly on the outs, as the Strikers brought in former Rowdy Jeff Attinella to mind the sticks.  Laurendi, who is out for the rest of the year with a lacerated kidney sustained last week, must have been the first choice keeper without reservation.  And Attinella’s shot-stopping ability may just make him the long-term starter.
  2. Obviously, the coach felt change was needed.  There were changes in personnel, position, and formation.  Not desperate measures exactly, but long in coming.  Some changes were revelations, others redemptions.
  3. The two forward system is back, as the formation went to a standard 4-4-2.  Both forwards scored—though the pairing needs some tweaking.  Size is lacking, but the will is there.

Now two road games, which have been the Strikers’ bugbear, will tell whether these changes are effective and permanent or ineffective and transitory.

Strikers 1 – Tampa Bay Rowdies 2

Another slow start resulted in defeat as Sunshine State rival Tampa sent the Strikers to the bottom of the table with a 2-1 victory.

Strikers (0-1-3)

Laurendi (Glaeser)

King     Thomas     Stahl     Guerrero

Rubens (Pecka)     Pecka

Johnson     Anderson     Foley

Dimitrov (Hassan)

King     Thomas   Stahl     Guerrero

Pecka

Restrepo    Foley    Anderson     Johnson

Hassan

 

Rowdies (2-1-1)

Sanfilippo     Scott     Needham (Gafa)    Arango (Walker)

Frimpong (Dixon)    Hill     Savage     Cox

Mulholland     Hristov

The Strikers starting line-up was suggestive.  Matt Glaeser, who had a very poor game last week, was dropped in favor of Cody Laurendi.  Tony Stahl was not wearing the captain’s armband, which was given to newcomer Shavar Thomas.  It doesn’t appear that Glaeser has had a good year stopping shots, and Stahl, while feisty and aggressive, sometimes lacks the composure needed for on-field leadership.  Only the coming weeks will show whether these were motivational tactics or permanent changes.   The rest of the squad appeared the same, only Rubens was given the start rather than the injured Salazar.

The Rowdies dominated the first thirty minutes of the game.  Quick passing kept the Strikers chasing the ball.  The work of Tampa’s Hill was especially impressive.  The big man used deft passing and good positioning to prevent the Strikers from resting control.  The first major blow to the Strikers was the injury to Laurendi, who was having a decent game but then collided with a Rowdy after collecting a loose ball.  Six minutes later the Rowdies struck with a Mulholland shot that hit the post to Glaeser right and bounced in.  That goal awoke the Strikers.  The attacks started to come down the flanks from Johnson and Foley.  Dimitrov had his best game; he was active, strong in the air, and occasionally threatening.   But the Strikers couldn’t snag one back.

The second half saw a change in personnel and formation.  Walter Restrepo, though not ninety minutes healthy, is indubitably the best player the Strikers can put on the field.  His tireless attacking and creativity give the Strikers punch.  Without him, they are one dimensional—especially since Anderson is nowhere to be found.  Also, the formation shifted from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1.  With the numbers in the midfield, the Strikers were able win the ball and build an attack.  The energy was short-lived as the Rowdies scored a contentious second goal.  Stahl was slow to react to a chipped ball, Hristov poached it from him, and Stahl went to ground intimating contact.  The refs saw no foul, and the Rowdies scored while Stahl lay on the ground pleading for a stoppage.  (This is a sign of those leadership issues.)  This goal was made possible by the separation created by the 4-1-4-1.  The Strikers have too many similar players going forward and too large of a space opens up, stranding Pecka and the back four. Restrepo got the Strikers back into the game with an amazing solo effort from a tight angle.  But a flurry of chances wouldn’t cross the line and Rowdies prevailed.

The game, while entertaining toward the end, offers more questions than answers:  Has the Coach lost confidence with his veterans?  Will the poor start lead to more change and experimentation?  What is wrong with Anderson?  Gordon?  Will the return of Hassan salvage the 4-2-3-1, a formation for which the present line-up seems ill-suited, or does a two striker system make more sense?  Has Laurendi won the job?   

These questions and more will begin to be answered on May 11, when the Strikers take on Minnesota United FC.

Strikers 1 – Carolina Railhawks 3

 

The Strikers handed another away game to the opponent—this time to the Railhawks.  Defensive inadequacies and an impotent attack were the causes of the Strikers latest disappointment.

Strikers (0-1-2)

King     Thomas     Stahl     Guerrero

Salazar (Rubens)     Pecka

Johnson     Anderson     Foley

Dimitrov

Carolina Railhawks (2-1-0)

Graye     Hamilton     King     Low

Millington     Franks

Shipalane     Shriver     DaLuz

Schilawski

The Strikers came out in the usual 4-2-3-1.  The only difference in the line-up was the replacement of King with Guerrero at left fullback.  Gordon, who seems to have been having a run of bad form, was dropped.  Shore seemed to be throwing caution to the wind and keep the same defensive midfield pairing; however, Salazar’s early injury led to the insertion of Rubens.

The Railhawks played a 4-2-3-1 that functioned at times like a 4-4-2 when Shriver played higher than his midfielders and alongside Schilawski.  Inarguably, former Striker Brian Shriver was the most attack minded player.  His speed caused problems for the Strikers all night.

Early on Glaeser had an uncharacteristically sloppy game, with some poor clearances and mishandlings.  But the Strikers were able to go up early with a goal by Johnson.  Pecka sent a ball in to Johnson who, seeing space and cutting to his left, drove the ball into the side netting.  From there the Strikers disintegrated.  While there were glimpses of quick counterattacking soccer, the Strikers couldn’t hand onto the ball and thus dictate play.  Two penalties essentially handed the game to the Railhawks.  In the first, a King handball was converted by Franks in the 27th minute.  And the second penalty was converted by Shriver as Stahl dragged down Gay.  Shriver sealed the deal when  poor clearance by Thomas fell right to his feet.  By the end of the game, the Strikers had lost the will to fight.  One prime example was a series of even numbered encounters near the top of the Strikers box during which no defenders backtracked to support the play.

If this campaign doesn’t improve and put the Strikers in a situation to compete for the fall season.  And really the remaining games will be judgement on Coach Daryl Shore.  If the Strikers don’t improve, he should be replaced.   This isn’t to say that there aren’t changes that he can make like 1)  returning to the diamond midfield, 2) getting Dimitrov to score or replacing him, and 3) finding a stable (and more fleet) backline.  Saturday’s Flroida Derby will say a lot about Shore’s coaching and the psychological profile of this team.

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