Step Up or Die
This year has been an exhilarating one for fans of Saint Louis FC. A vast improvement of play, personnel, and, subsequently, record has lifted game day excitement to another level. STLFC have reached as high as third in the west, but have since been stuck mid-table thanks to a string of losses and draws interrupted by a few wins. Once the training staff got Irvin Herrera healthy and firing on all cylinders, the team has looked downright dominant. But as of late, Irvin has been a bit muted. Is Irvin to blame? Is he in a slump? I believe he may be the key to our team’s struggles, but not the cause.
Herrera was a perfect find for a team like St. Louis that utilizes a lone striker up top. He is the only player the opposing back line has to worry about for the full 90, but to his advantage, he is free to lurk all over the final third. He does just that. After starting late with an injury, Irvin is still 4th in the USL with 9 goals (although many of those came in the two games STL beat up on Tulsa).
So we’re not the only ones noticing that the strength of STL’s offense is the illusive Irvin. Other teams have been keying in on him too. Their thoughts: shut down that strength and see what else they can throw at us. Unfortunately, St. Louis has had no answer for it.
This is the crux of any competitive league. Teams search for and find a strategy that works, but eventually the other side figures out a way to defend, counter, or out-play it. Then you’re back to square one and round we go.
The biggest adjustments lately are direct responses to the struggles mentioned above. If Irvin Herrera is getting shut down, that should leave holes elsewhere in the other team’s defense for STL to take advantage of. Ideally, you’d like to rely on a second attacker down the middle, say, Jamiel Hardware, or players on the wings. Dale HAS been adjusting play by trying to get balls through the middle and edges of the field via the counter or out of the back—especially after long balls don’t pay off early (and they haven’t been).
Dale has also been playing with personnel as a direct response. Obviously if one guy isn’t getting it done, throw someone else in there that has impressed in training. Even if that player doesn’t nail it on game day, at least they’re pressing the current starter for that position—therefore pushing the entire team to play their hearts out.
I think the winner of this “starting game” will be obvious: the one that scores goals. Let’s talk about these players pushing for starting roles.
Seth Rudolph. Seth is a newcomer to the team this year, having played in Sweden after college. It’s taken him some time to get accustomed to the USL style of play. Seth let his skills shine for all of us to see in the 7-1 rout of Tulsa. His most memorable moment was when he curled a perfect shot from outside the box and into the top right corner of the goal. Unfortunately he’s been quiet since then.
Seth is perfect on the wing with his explosive speed and, unless that Tulsa goal was blind luck, his nose for the goal. Seth can often be seen using his speed to get past one defender and into the opponents back four where they absorb his attack. He then looks up for a passing option, but must retreat or be dispossessed when there’s no one there to pass to. The question I have about Seth: should the team be supporting his attacks or is he diverting away from the game plan?
Jordan Roberts. Jordan has good speed and unbelievable ball skills. I swear I see him accidentally juke when no one is around out of habit. Jordan showed that his ball skills pay off with goals when he’s given space to shoot in the Open Cup game against AFC Cleveland. Jordan has scored once in USL play, but again, it was the game in which the team went off on Tulsa.
Mike Ambersley. Mike is the closest thing to an old faithful that STLFC has. He’s a salty veteran that has looked the best this year passing and moving in tight spaces. I like seeing Ambo cut inside, as he is a converted center forward, and interacting with Herrera and Hardware. He has been key in unlocking bunkered defenses this season. Without him, we may still be seeing parked buses every second half of every game.
Attacking Midfielders. We have only two to choose from so far and one has gone back to Chicago Fire: Drew Conner. Drew showed promise in making good runs in conjunction with Herrera, but his ball distribution doesn’t quite match Hardware’s. Jamiel had all but taken Drew’s starting role when he went back to the first team. Hardware has shown promise in ball distribution as well as making runs, but has yet to become a severe threat to defenses.
In fact, I’d say that about all of the players mentioned here. Every one of these guys makes great plays on the pitch—worthy of short bursts of cheers. But, these praiseworthy efforts often end in near misses, passes just beyond attackers, or defenders bodying these smaller players off the ball.
So, the final question is, are these near misses outliers? Will they start hitting their marks at the end of the season for a late run into the playoffs? Or will St. Louis continue to fizzle out until the end of the season? -PG
Photo by Will Bramlett at workinthemorning.com