MILFORD — FC Cincinnati believed the plan to build the roster from the back, defense first, was its best chance to stay in matches and compete in the inaugural MLS season. Ultimately, they might be right, but Saturday at CenturyLink Field, that strategy imploded.
This week, FCC is picking up the pieces, dissecting what went wrong during a 4-1 loss to Seattle in the historic MLS opener, and finding ways to prevent an even worse result on Sunday at defending champion Atlanta United.
“We gave them too much space on the one side,” said midfielder Leonardo Bertone, whose right foot gave FCC its first franchise highlight in the 13th minute. “We didn’t defend that good over there. They knew they could go there, so they hurt us over there.”
“There” was the Swiss International’s reference to the right side of FCC’s defense, which was a veritable welcome mat for the Sounders. Not to single out only two guys, but Eric Alexander was outpaced and out of position, while Alvas Powell was caught napping on several occasions as the Sounders created 19 of their 24 shots from the right.
“It’s all about communication on the field,” said Bertone. “We have to help each other. The spaces we gave them we don’t want to give to Atlanta this weekend. We have to learn how to move, how to defend. If we do, we’ll make progress. We have to correct it.”
But as coach Allan Koch correctly pointed out, most of Seattle’s scoring chances began with careless giveaways by FCC, whose 73 percent pass accuracy feels inflated. But those are correctable errors, things that should improve as a roster largely constructed in less than three months gains continuity and familiarity with each other on the pitch.
“As good as Seattle were, we felt like we gave them a lot of opportunities that (resulted) in the goals that they scored,” Koch said. “They capitalized on the chances.”
On a frigid Tuesday afternoon at Mercy Health Training Center, it was back to work for the Orange and Blue, who had a spirited training session despite temperatures in the 20s and a stiff wind.
The best news coming out of Tuesday’s training was veteran defender Greg Garza returning to the pitch after working only on the side with a quad injury that forced him out of training with the U.S. men’s national team in mid-January, then lingered longer than expected.
Whether Garza is ready to factor in Sunday’s match against his former club remains to be seen. But Garza moving freely in full training certainly was a welcome sight for FCC, who could have used him in Seattle.
“He looked fantastic,” said Koch. “For his first full day, he looked very, very good. Obviously, we have a long way to go match fitness-wise, but it’s very exciting to have him in a full session.”
Considering the nature of a quad injury and risk of reoccurrence, Koch said there will be a conservative approach taken with Garza, a former MLS All-Star who made 11 appearances, including 10 starts for MLS Cup champion United last season.
Garza’s return would help stabilize the back line, and his experience and familiarity with Atlanta has value.
“It was nice to get back on the field with the guys and starting to get acclimated with the group, it felt good,” said Garza following Tuesday’s training. “For sure, there’s a lot of talent there in Atlanta. For me personally, if you can take care of the guys that have really done damage the past two years, that’s the main objective. I think D.C. (United) showed a bit of that last weekend.”
Garza was referring to D.C. United’s 2-0 win over Atlanta last weekend, in which they limited Josef Martinez to only two shots.
Prior to Tuesday’s training session, Koch had a video session with the team, a look back at Seattle and the first chance to look ahead to Atlanta. Koch called the session “constructive” and the subsequent training session “fantastic”. The prevailing theme among the FCC players on Tuesday was improvement, to correct the mistakes of Saturday and deliver a better performance this weekend.
“No excuses,” Koch said. “We knew Seattle was going to be a tough game, (and) it was a tough game. That’s just a pure fact of the process of where we’re at. We’ve digested it. I think the players have learned from that experience. We saw a fantastic response on the pitch today.”