Season 2004

What a frustrating season!

Come back, Frankie and Johnnie, all is forgiven... Between an injury list longer than the local news' summary of the match, some astonishingly disconnected and dispirited play, and officiating calls that only make sense under alternative laws of physics, this has not been a happy season, even if you somehow manage to blot out the axe hanging over everyone's head all season. (And who can?)

How can the same set of players who turned in such wonderful performances last year walk through great chunks of matches showing nothing in the way of offense? How can the guys noted for team-effort work-rate and pressing their opponents all over the field go for twenty minutes at a time without any possession at all? How can the same guy who is clearly the best one on the field every time he puts on the national uniform spend so much time aimlessly noodling around the center circle at Spartan? How can it be that the most hapless player at beating defenders one on one is the only one even trying?

I do not count myself among the Dom bashers. Still, one thing that was always striking about Yallop's teams is: they adjusted at half time, and played better in the second half. Kinnear seems to lack that knack. Kinnear also seems to keep his subs on the bench until it is way too late for them to make a difference. I also think that all the off-field turmoil has put Kinnear in an almost impossible situation: a large part of football is in the head, and if you have a bunch of guys fretting and anxious about their futures, it doesn't help keep their heads in the game.

Still, we don't have to be blind, stupid, and desperate to keep watching. The Quakes show enough of what they are capable of to make the fans crazy, that's all. As Wynalda said, there's a difference between a bad team and a good team playing badly. Unfortunately, we've seen too much of a good team playing badly this year. On the other hand, we've also seen some breathtakingly beautiful stuff. It's always been the question this year: which team will it be today? The heartless duffers running the ball forwards and hoping for the best? Or the footballing gods making the other team look like practice cones?

It I were picking the line-up:

In the abstract, I'd do it this way, which is pretty much what Kinnear has been doing:

Up front: Ching and Donovan. I like this pairing. In the Poland game you could see it start to work for the US, as well, and it saved the United States in the qualifier with Jamaica. It was what led to the West's goal in the All Star Game. I think in general Donovan is more effective coming in as an attacking midfielder, but at Spartan it just doesn't work. Maybe for away games withdraw Donovan and put in some combination of DeRosario, Alvarez, Walker, etc. but really, Donovan and Ching is it. They just know how to work together.

Midfield: Mulrooney and Ekelund in the middle, Mullen and DeRosario wide. Now that Ekelund is fit for a whole game, I'd stick with this, or maybe drop in Corrales if DeRosario starts running out of steam or for a more defensive look. If Ekelund or Mulrooney isn't available for some reason, I like Alvarez inside. Russell in wide for some late speed, if need be. Starting Corrales wide, especially against counter-attacking teams that bunker down, is just pointless: he cannot cannot cannot beat people one on one. I like DeRosario as a wide midfielder much (much) better.

Defense: Gee, any 4 breathing bodies that can walk! In an ideal world, Dayak and Agoos healthy in the middle, Dunivant and Waibel wide.

Goalkeeper: Have to go with Onstad, although he's made some outstanding blunders this year. When Onstad's off with Canada, I'd like to see what Cronin can do. I know what Conway can do, and I don't like the looks of it.

On the other hand, right now what the team needs is a dose of passion. They need to get their heads back in the game, to want to win, and to believe they can win. The key to this team, it seems to me, is the motivation of two players: Donovan and Ekelund. Motivating Donovan is easy: sit him for a game. The next game he plays like a mad genius and no one can stop him. Unfortunately, we've run out of games in which we can afford to sit Donovan. Maybe a half game? Ekelund is more of a puzzle. But it's clear: the games he comes out energized for, the team looks awesome. The games he comes out more quietly, they look lame. Maybe part of it isn't so much motivation but how much he gets knocked about early on. So, picking a team for passion:

Defense: Robinson, Dayak, Agoos, Waibel. Sure, Robinson looks like a red card waiting to happen everytime he comes on. I say, the team needs an enforcer right now. And if he gets sent off for whacking the guy who is whacking Ekelund and Mulrooney, well, I'm thinking that's a good exchange. We want heart. So, Dayak.

Midfield: Wide we start with Mullan and Corrales. Mullan always plays for keeps. Play him 60 minutes and then put in Russell. No one messes with Russell and lives. As for Corrales: He's the only one on the team to consistently play with everything he's got. The boy cannot beat defenders one on one. He hits the upper deck with every shot. But he plays with heart. In the center we stick with Ekelund and Mulrooney but we put whatever Ekelund needs in his Wheaties to make him fiery and we send Robinson to remind anyone who takes a pop at either one that hacking is a two-way street. (I'm tired of Mulrooney getting levelled 10-15 times a game, getting up, wincing, carrying on without a complaint, and few fouls and fewer cards anywhere in sight. The Quakes should be tired of that too, and should think about getting mad about it.) If Ekelund looks off his game, Dombrowski (for effort) or Alvarez (for interesting and creative passing).

Up front. We either sit Donovan for a half, or do whatever mental manipulations are required to make him feel the same way, then put him in. In the meanwhile, we put the crazy Canadian up front. Ching gets a half (the same half as Donovan) and which point he gets replaced with, um, here it gets hard, Mullan perhaps, and someone else to replace him on the wing.

The Squad

1 Jon Conway
Keeper. He's not a bad keeper, really, but the whole defense looks less organized and solid when he's in goal. Very weak on high crosses. Gives up too many rebounds. Can make some nice reaction saves, and he's a big lad with a long reach.
2 Eddie Robinson
Defender. Out injured much of the season. He had improved a lot last season, but still always looks like a red card in progress. Doesn't make stupid mistakes otherwise.
5 Ramiro Corrales
Midfielder. Corrales looks more sure and solid with every game. In the first Dallas game he was the brightest spot for the Quakes: the only one who looked like he wanted to win and had a clue how to achieve it. In the most recent Dallas game he was on fire, playing his best game ever. His shooting, however, continues to be wildly off target more often than not (clue: a good shot does not go out into the upper deck for a throw in), and he has an unfortunate tendency to attempt to beat defenders instead of laying the ball off. Unfortunate, because he lacks the ability to beat defenders and loses the ball when he tries it. Every. Single. Time.
6 Ronnie Ekelund
Midfielder. Ekelund has struggled with injury this season as well. He's gradually started to look life his old self and played really, really well. Not fast, but excellent passing, great decision-making, good vision. The last couple of games he has been on fire, even running at the defense, which isn't a huge part of his repertoire.
7 Ian Russell
Midfield/forward. Russell works immensely hard every game, but his decision-making and aim have been wayward of late. On form he takes on defenders one on one, beats them, and lays in good crosses. Off form, he goes for the easy backwards pass instead of beating defenders and skies crosses into the stands. Has a scowl that could melt glass.
8 Richard Mulrooney
Midfielder. Mulrooney epitomizes what the Quakes are all about: not flashy, just a lot of hard work and hustle. Lots of assists, barely any goals. With the rest of the midfield this season has had a hard time connecting with the forwards. When he has a good game, the team does well. When he has a bad game, they look lost. He gets banged around every single game, and just gets right on up and keeps going.
9 Brian Mullen
Forward/midfield. Mullen works immensely hard every game. He doesn't appear to have a lower gear. Takes people on one-on-one very well, never gives up, and causes a lot of trouble either taking the ball in himself or crossing it.
10 Landon Donovan
Forward. Or perhaps a midfielder. Donovan gets better and better, which is obvious when he's playing with the nationals, and not always apparent with the Quakes (sigh) where he has the habit of checking out of the game for a half an hour or so. Yes, everything they say about him is true: the speed, the touch, the vision, the making everyone around him better. This gets mentioned less, but is also true: he works hard. For every blazing run up the side towards goal, there were a couple of blazing runs across field or tracking back to snuff out an opposing attack and win back the ball. This is almost certainly his last season in San Josť, enjoy him while you may.
11 Arturo Alvarez
Midfield/forward. Kinnear plays Alvarez wide when he plays him, but I like the looks of him coming inside. He has a lot of skill and energy as a forward, but his creative and skillful playmaking is what sets him apart.
12 Jeff Agoos
Defender. Agoos has also lost a lot to injury this year. Even when he can hardly move, the whole team plays better to have him on the field. Demonstrates on a regular basis that age and cunning trumps youth and speed. The best reader of the ball out there, Agoos anticipates trouble so well that he will snuff it out before it became a problem. A sharp tackler, but (usually) a clean one.
13 Jamil Walker
Forward. Light and lanky, Walker runs like a colt. Has a lot of speed, but doesn't always know what to do with it.
14 Dwayne DeRosario
Forward. Seeing him play for Canada was an eye-opener and made us wonder if the Quakes hadn't been playing him in the wrong spot all these years. As a wide midfielder he was dominating and dangerous. As a target man he can be frustrating to watch. Has a tendency to take on just one too many defenders instead of passing. Still, his energy and unpredictability can work well. We love the fact that he cuts defenses no slack whatever: there is no back pass, at no time of the game, regardless of the score-line, that DeRo won't chase.
15 Roger Levesque
Forward. Haven't seen much of the kid so far.
16 Craig Waibel
Defender. Solid. Seems to be making fewer ill-considered appalling fouls this season.
17 Todd Dunivant
Defender. Todd spent the first half of the season injured and the second half playing as inconsistently as the rest of the team. When he's playing well, he plays like a man with about 15 more years experience. Extremely sure-footed, reads the game well, very nice first touch. Comes forward to very good effect, where he can beat defenders and lay in a sweet ball to the middle. To top it all off, he has a throw-in that can make it two thirds the way across the field (well, at Spartan, at any rate) with no apparent effort on the kid's part. When he's playing poorly, he makes very poor reads of the ball, leaves the back exposed by coming forward at the wrong time, and passes poorly.
18 Pat Onstad
Keeper. When he is good, he is very, very good. When he is bad, he is rotten. When he is in goal, the whole defense plays with more coordination and confidence. Great in the air, astonishing reflexes, and a throw that can reach the other half of the field. But, oh my! Does he get badly beaten by shots from outside the box on a regular occasion. And when he gives up a rebound, its a bad one.
19 Troy Dayak
Central defender. A rock. Dayak anchoring the center of defense with Agoos -- what more could you ask for? Well, keeping them healthy, for one thing. Dayak has spent more time on the injury roster than off it. I expect this is his last season.
20 Ryan Cochrane
Defender. The rookie has been asked to do a lot this season, and he hasn't always been up to the challenge. He has made some very bad, crucial mistakes.
21 Tighe Dombrowski
Midfielder. Hasn't had a lot of playing time yet, but we like what we've seen so far: a lot of determination and energy, and no little amount of skill.
22 Wes Hart
Defender. Hart has been brought in to plug the gaping injury holes. He's been OK, but not stellar. He's missed some crucial assignments at times.
23 Chris Brown
Midfielder/forward. I like the way Brown shugs off defenders as he runs at them. His passing lacks a certain creativity and precision, however. (Perhaps we have been spoiled by Donovan and Ekelund.)
24 Steve Cronin
Keeper. Both for Santa Clara and for the U20s he impressed the heck out of me. Just all around solid, plus some stellar reaction saves. I'd like to see him get his chance instead of Conway when Onstad is off for qualifiers.
25 Brian Ching
Forward. Ching is a big lad, who knows how to throw his weight around and hold off defenders. He makes excellent runs, and takes chances when they present themselves. Doesn't seem to combine very well with DeRosario or Walker, however. Donovan or Alvarez works much better. In the Poland game he brought more to the game in 20 minutes than McBride did the whole rest of the game. Ditto in the Jamaica game, where the Donovan to Ching combo pulled the United States collective bacon out of the fire. Maybe Arena will get the clue and dump McBride in his favour. And, well, apparently Arena is a clever as he thinks he is, because he did just that against El Salvador and was rewarded with a goal.