Good Friday morning Caps fans and a good Friday morning it is indeed.
Against all odds, logic and common sense, the Caps have somehow qualified for the knockout stages, thanks to, well, 30 minutes of good play over three games. Did they deserve to go through? Almost certainly not. Will they likely get smashed by Sporting Kansas City on Sunday? Perhaps, although the Caps did have some bright moments in the opening match of the season (although admittedly with several players currently missing in Orlando).
But the truth of the matter is we haven’t had much to celebrate in recent years and, with an MLS regular season firmly up in the air (especially for Canadian teams), there likely won’t be much else to celebrate this season either.
Truth be told, it was and impressive tactical display from MDS: frustrate and tire a mediocre Fire team for 60 minutes (though this was contigent on them fluffing some pretty juicy chances) and then hit back on the counter with impact subs in the final half hour. Was this exactly how MDS drew it up? No, not unless he expected a weather delay, a raging controversy over a goal line handball and a Jake Nerwinski high boot to all enter the equation. But the result was the same: a two-goal margin of victory and a pass into the knockout stages.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you yesterday was a *good* performance because, well, come on. I’m also not going to sit here and say that Sunday will be any easier on the eyes or the masochism because, well, come on. But there were a couple positives I’m going to choose to dwell on.
1) Thomas Hasal did a job
Talk about being thrown into the deep end—Thomas Hasal basically was thrust from the third string “Wow we really hope we don’t have to ever give this guy minutes role” into a make-or-break match with breakneck speed.
I am not the 86F academy guru (hey Caleb!) but there is some demonstrable evidence that he was performing better than other former youth goalkeepers who hung around for a few years before being transferred out without starting (the list is lengthier than I think any one of us would care to admit) before being offered a senior contract last year.
But I don’t think most any of us knew what to expect when Hasal took the field, first against Seattle and then against Chicago. I gotta say, though, I was impressed. It wasn’t a great performance by any stretch of the imagination—he had one attempt at quickly restarting play that immediately turned into a turnover and a Fire chance, as well as one time where he came off his box, whiffed and was truly out to sea. And, frankly, if Max Crepeau put in this performance, we’d be a little less generous.
The fact of the matter, however, is there have been a long line of academy keepers who we just haven’t see play. Whether they were any good or not we will never know because the club kept signing mediocre backup keepers without giving them a chance. And, thanks to a bizarre set of circumstances, we got to see Hasal and it turns out his floor is probably a lot higher than what many of us, myself included, expected. Did I just jinx him, meaning he’ll get rocked against SKC? Yeah, probably. But I appreciate that he was confident in how he worked with the defense, in how he came off his line for a few key punches and think he will continue to look more comfortable going forward.
2. Derek Cornelius helped the back line ... a lot
I’m on the record as being a big Jasser Khmiri fan and this tournament has not made me look particularly good. Its been a bit of a rough few matches for Jasser and many have been clamoring for Derek Cornelius to replace him alongside Ranko Veselinovic, who most agree has looked quite solid overall. Well, MDS went with a back three, presumably in an effort to keep the Fire at bay until the second half, at which point the Caps would smash and grab a couple of goals. Well, the defense wasn’t always the steadiest (the Fire still had a LOT of good chances) but it looked much less dysfunctional than it had in the first two matches, owing a lot to Cornelius’ presence. His physical nature and hulking presence pairs well with a guy in Veselinovic who likes the ball at his feet. And it appears that with Khmiri hurt he will be back for more on Sunday.
3. Ali Adnan ... as a winger?
So I’m not really sure why I wasn’t on board this train before but the “play Ali Adnan as a winger/further forward” idea is basically what won the match for the Caps. Upon bringing on Christian Gutierrez, the Iraqi international was pushed farther forward, allowing him to leave his stamp on a match where he had little impact up to that point. It also spared him the pesky details of having to defend, something that Ali is ... not always the best at. Gutierrez is an adept, if untested, left back and it gives the Caps some flexibility to move Adnan, who has easily been the team’s best offensive engine this season (given that In-Beom has been stuck in neutral) to a role where he can more consistently impact the game. Currently, it is just too easy for teams to stop the Caps from playing through the left hand side—moving him forward changes that. If the team is in need of a goal Sunday, look for MDS to try this again.
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