By JEFF HERNDEN
In speaking with the instructor at my coaching course this summer, the topic of tactics came up. He asked, “How do you stop then-Juventus defender Dani Alves from attacking?” I replied, “You make him defend.” This was part of a larger conversation about to what extent a manager should adjust tactics in reaction to what the opposition team brings. The end result was the conclusion that teams should enter the match with the goal of imposing their style of play on the opponent and the team that loses this battle, will be forced to adjust. Against FC Cincinnati, the Charleston Battery and again this Saturday against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, this is what the Rowdies were able to do. When the Rowdies are at their best, it’s because they’ve entered the game seeking to impose their tactics and style on their opponent. The result? Goals, clean sheets and three points.
Rowdies Coach Stuart Campbell lined his men up against Pittsburgh in the 4-3-3 for the fourth consecutive match. From the opening whistle the Rowdies imposed their attacking style, avoiding the nervous, slow starts that had been characteristic of the recent winless streak. Left back Zac Portillos and midfielder Marcel Schäfer pressed the attack early, making overlapping runs on the left side, which resulted Alex Morrell’s early rebound goal. From there, the Rowdies remained on the front foot for most of the match. In imposing themselves on the Riverhounds, the Rowdies, led by holding midfielder Justin Chavez, were able to defend from the front. This high press allowed defenders Portillos and Kyle Porter provide width to the attack and open space for the central midfielders to create.
With the Rowdies being successful in attacking and keeping possession in the offensive half throughout, keeper Matt Pickens had a quiet night. He only needed to make one big save and a couple more simple ones. Aside from an early yellow card for Tamika Mkandawire and a late second half press from Pittsburgh, the back four had a similarly quiet, yet effective night. Unfortunately for Tam, this yellow card resulted in him picking up a one-match suspension for accumulation. However, Damion Lowe will be available again has after returning from an impressive spell for Jamaica in the Gold Cup. We can be sure that Lowe will be well rested and ready for action at home next Saturday.
For the second week in a row, the Rowdies starting XI played well and went without injury, allowing Campbell to again be more selective in his substitutions. Campbell chose to make use of his substitutions to keep the attack fresh late in the game, bringing on Walter Restrepo and Michael Nanchoff in the 71st and 79th minutes, respectively. This gave the Rowdies fresh legs up front to press the attack and keep the ball in Pittsburgh’s half. This pressure would eventually result in Morrell’s second goal of the night, volleying in a fine far-post cross from Schäfer.
The Rowdies are currently in excellent form and we should expect to see that form continue at home against the City Islanders on August 5th. Aside from Lowe coming in for the suspended Tam, we can surely expect to see an otherwise unchanged side. But with Nanchoff returning from injury, the signings of Restrepo and Sebastian Guenzatti, and the tail end of the season fast-approaching, we may begin to see some rotation to keep the squad fresh.
Manager rating: 7/10 — Overall team rating: 8.5/10
Matt Pickens (GK): Often times the most difficult games for a goalkeeper are those where you don’t have much work to do. However, as you’d expect from a keeper of his experience, Pickens kept himself focused for the full 90 and handled his one test well. Player rating: 8/10
Zac Portillos (LB): Portillos again worked well on the left side alongside Schäfer and Georgi, getting himself forward in to attacking positions, putting in three crosses and creating two scoring chances. Contributed defensively with three tackles, one clearance, one blocked shot and three interceptions. Best defender of the night. Player rating: 8/10
Neill Collins (CB): Calm, cool and collected. Collins was effective and came up big the few times he was called upon. Two tackles and two clearances anchoring the back line. Player rating: 7.5/10
Tamika Mkandawire (CB): Yellow card in the third minute meant Tam had to be careful in his play all night. Quietly effective with five clearances and two interceptions. Player rating: 7/10
Kyle Porter (RB): With the Rowdies pressing forward much of the match, Porter was not only effective defensively, but was also able to get forward and involved in the attack with three crosses and one chance created. Player rating: 7.5/10
Justin Chavez (DM): It’s no coincidence that Chavez’s return to the lineup following injury has coincided with the team’s return to form. His ability to hold the midfield on his own frees up Schäfer and Cole to press forward without worry of getting caught on the counter. One of the teams most important players. Player rating: 8/10
Marcel Schäfer (CM): I’ll say it again. When Schäfer gets forward, the Rowdies attack clicks. Both goals in this one came as a result of Schäfer getting forward. Two shots on target, two shots blocked, five crosses, and one assist. If not for Morrell’s brace, he would have been MOTM. Player rating: 8.5/10
© Joe Cole (CM, Subbed off 79′ – Nanchoff): Relatively quiet night for Cole, as much of the attack went through Schäfer. Put in an excellent shift defending in the attacking and midfielder thirds with four tackles, helping the Rowdies press forward. A team-focused and workman like performance in this one. Player rating: 7.5/10
Georgi Hristov (LW): Part of a growing partnership on the left along with Portillos and Schäfer. While Georgi may not be getting on the stat sheet, his ability to combine well with his teammates as well as being able to play across the front four does not go unappreciated. Player rating: 7/10
Alex Morrell (RW, Subbed off 90′ – Vingaard): Another MOTM performance from Morrell. I said last week that he is really beginning to solidify his spot in the starting XI, but based upon the form he’s in, scoring his first two professional league goals, he’s earned himself a guaranteed starting spot. Hopefully he maintains that form going forward. Player rating: 8.5/10
Martin Paterson (F, Subbed off 71′ – Restrepo): Should have had his fourth consecutive game with a goal, but not for a questionable foul called on Morrell. Paterson brought his trademark intensity and work rate to this one and his hold up play was again quality, but didn’t have quite the impact as in previous matches. Player rating: 7.5/10
Walter Restrepo (LW, Subbed on 71′ – Paterson): Came on to the left wing as Georgi moved up top and had another strong display. It won’t be long until he starts to press for a spot in the starting XI. That sort of competition and depth is something the Rowdies will desperately need as they push in to the playoffs. Player rating 8/10
Michael Nanchoff (CM, subbed on 79′ – Cole): Before his injury, Nanchoff was one of the brightest spots in the lineup. Excellent to see him back after a long spell out. Player rating: NA/10
Martin Vingaard (D, subbed on 90′ – Morrell): Last minute sub wasted some time and looked to sure up the defense for the final minutes. Player rating: NA/10
IMAGE, PATRICK PATTERSON/UNUSED SUBSTITUTES