Too Soon...Too Soon
Well, almost every official player, academy player, and trialist has played a preseason game as of 5:00 today and I’m already seeing some disappointment from fans. Most of it is qualified with a reference to preseason--rightly so. So let me qualify this article now: IT’S TOO SOON TO DECIDE ANYTHING. Feel free to reference back to the previous statement every following paragraph or so.
That said, let’s talk about what we saw shall we?
OK, I’m not going to bury the lead here. This year’s crop of academy trialists are much more prepared than last year’s. I know this because I have a direct measurement. Last year, Aedan Stanley got a lot of time in the preseason friendly against SIUE. He looked to be in slightly over his head at the start, but grew more comfortable with the timing, physicality, and speed of the college game as it wore on. Skip ahead a year to the last two weeks. Aedan isn’t just keeping up in the training sessions I saw. He is excelling. His academy cohorts have been unphased by physicality when challenged for possession (and you should see what some of these grown men are doing to them). They shrug it off and “get after it”.
Matteo runs fast and violent at all times, drawing the admiration of the commentator more than once
Honestly, while admiring these guys in training I doubted whether it would fully translate to game speed. I argue now that the last two games have proved it has. Elias Vlastos did absolutely nothing to hurt Preki’s view of him as far as I could tell. Aedan Stanley showed a lot of soccer smarts and instinct throughout the game and really shined in the second half as he got a little more aggressive. Perhaps his confidence in the second half was boosted a bit by a familiar face. Chad Bond, er, I mean Matteo Kidd, Aedan’s Scott Gallagher teammate and training buddy, came on as a sub sometime around the 60th minute. Aedan and Matteo showed a good rapport in a few exchanges, but it was in the 70th minute when Matteo forced a turnover while pressing Ottawa in the midfield and scored off of a give and go with, I think, Stojkov. Matteo runs fast and violent at all times, drawing the admiration of the commentator more than once.
I don’t know whether just having a USL club attached to the academy system did this, Preki’s training alone, or just the perfect storm of talented kids has caused this level of play to occur, but I know I like it.
Stock is Up
Many players showed well in the first two games. Here are some of my favorites.
Tyler David continued his good form from a run of starts at the end of last season. Tyler looks at home when pressing and constantly has his head up looking for friendly targets downfield. I imagine Tyler dreaming all night of the perfect thru ball--bypassing 3 or 4 defenders a la Andrea Pirlo.
Matt Sheldon truly shined in the first half against D.C. United. I continually thought he was a winger while attacking and noticed many a defensive play against a MLS level attack. Matt easily outshined all the other fullbacks in the first two games. As a side note, check out Matt’s journey from college to Germany to PDL to USL. He’s a player to keep an eye on.
Sebastian Dalgaard was the most dangerous attacker to face DC United today. He seems to have permission to float around the field as he sees fit and it fit me just fine to see it. As the game went on I started to wonder how many DC players he is better than. I consider us all lucky to be able to watch this guy score goals for us this season.
Ivan Mirkovic Let’s be honest. It may not matter whether we think Ivan is doing well or not. The guy is going to play if he’s healthy. Today’s game gave us a look at why. Ivan did what we have been hearing about: keeping order on the field and holding players accountable. Oh yeah, he’s pretty damn good at moving the ball around the field too.
Stock is Down
Austin Ledbetter’s signing announcement came a day before his preseason start. I never saw him in training so I’m not sure how much time he’s had to train with his center back partner Cabalceta, nor to adjust to USL level of play. I say that because it looked like his timing was off. Attackers seemed to press him before he was ready and many of his passes were slow and off target. These qualities go against his college record and playing style, so I don’t think it will continue. If it does continue, he’ll have to count on his work ethic to lift his level of play.
Many players got a little lost on the field but that happens. Others looked neither flashy nor bad. In preseason I won’t even touch these with a ten foot pole. Again, it’s too soon for serious talk. None of these players have played more than 95 minutes and the season is long. However, two games have occurred and I must talk soccer. I’d love to hear your thoughts too. -PG