Last week we talked about the five best moves of 2011. Now it's time to look at the five worst.
Despite the failure to win a trophy and the bad finish to the season, it was still a fairly strong year for FCD. Even with the loss of David Ferreira, FCD still played well and racked up some nice scalps. Yet the season could have been even better if not for some mistakes.
5. Lack of depth / Not Playing Reserves
Last winter FCD lost a ton of their depth with the departure of Dax McCarty, Atiba Harris, Heath Pearce, Dario Sala, and Jeff Cunningham. During the season FCD got rid of Kyle Davies, Eric Alexander, Eric Avila, Peri Marosevic, and Milton Rodriguez. Yes, some of those players were replaced, but many of them were not. FCD was left with a more shallow roster and less depth while going into their heaviest fixture load season in franchise history.
Add to that the most Home Grown players in MLS with six: Moises Hernandez, Bryan Leyva, Ruben Luna, Richard Sanchez, Jonathan Top, and Victor Ulloa. Only one of those players saw first team action, Ruben Luna. That's 5 of 6 never getting on the field.
Of the 10 players on the reserve roster, several others never say action. With Kevin Hartman playing all but one game, and Chris Seitz playing that one, both Josh Lambo and Richard Sanchez never saw the field. Four keepers when you have a starter like Hartman isn't a good idea. Of the other reserve players, Bobby Warshaw played in 17 games, as the first round pick that is to be expected, and Andrew Wiedeman saw action in three games, none of them starts, for a total of 59 minutes.
That means of 10 reserve spots, only 3 saw any playing time, one of them a minuscule amount. That's in effect 8 roster spots out of the 30 potentially available that, for the purposes of this season, might as well have been empty.
With the heaviest fixture load in club history, FCD should have been stockpiling depth that could get on the field rather than losing it. Overuse of senior players in the heavy game load is certainly a direct factor in the injuries and fatigue down the stretch.
4. Reserves For Tauro
Four games into the Champions League group stage, FCD was feeling pretty good about their standing going into a game at Tauro in Panama. Tauro had yet to win a single game in group play and FCD was in a solid position, so the club felt comfortable fielding a week lineup featuring several backs up, younger players, and reserves.
That decision proved to be a mistake as Tauro steam rolled FCD to the tune of a 5-3 whooping. FCD's defense was crushed, the goal against mark was greatly harmed, and two players were red carded (in moments of immaturity in an already lost game) and thus out for the FCD final game against Toronto. FCD underestimated their competition and paid the price.
That 5-3 loss to Tauro, even more than the final game against Toronto FC, cost FCD their spot in the next round.
3. Hall for Alexander Trade
Let's be real, this trade is nothing short of a disaster. Granted, FCD needed some defensive depth. Also granted Eric Alexander had slipped a little down the depth chart with the play of Ricardo Villar and the arrival of Daniel Cruz. Moving a midfield piece for a defensive piece isn't a bad idea in and of itself.
But Eric Alexander was cheap ($46K), hard working, and a big part of the locker room chemistry here. His versatility allowed him to play both centrally and wide in coach Hyndman's system. Alexander could and did start with FCD not missing a beat. Down the stretch in the CCL and the league Alexander could have really helped this team.
To compound that Jeremy Hall, to this point anyway, doesn't look to be up to FCD standards. Hall made multiple mistakes when forced into the starting lineups and was arguably responsible for some of the losses FCD sustained. Hall had lost his job with Portland and is really expensive for a backup player at $80K base, $129K with bonuses.
Expensive, a backup, and maybe not good enough in his current form. That's a bad trifecta.
2. Failure to Find a High Striker
Next on the list is the failure to land a goal scoring high striker. Tied for 9th (with two goals) is how far you have to go down the FCD scoring list to find a true striker. Brek Shea (a mid), Marvin Chavez (a mid), Jackson (a defender), David Ferreira (a mid and missing most of the year), and George John (a center back for goodness sake) all finished above the first true striker on the chart in the form of Maicon Santos. Heck Santos was tied with 3 other players, only one of who can kinda be thought of as a striker, Fabian Castillo.
Ever since Kenny Cooper left this team has been short a striker, I would argue even before that they were missing one anyway, with Jeff Cunningham out it only got worse. One reason FCD plays a 4-1-4-1 is the lack of a striker to play in a 4-4-2 as the coach would prefer. The later half of the season, Jackson, a flank defender, was the best option up top in the coach's eyes.
This mistake is, in effect, three fold. First, going into the season with Milton Rodriguez as the only proven option was a failure. That mistake was compounded when Rodriguez wasn't up to form and FCD had to cut him mid-season. Second, bringing in Maicon Santos, while at least an effort to get someone, didn't work out and Santos only netted twice in eleven games for FCD. Third, Santos was cup-tied for CONCACAF Champions League play by virtue of being on Toronto FC's CCL roster. So Santos was going to be worthless in FCD's biggest competition, leaving FCD shorthanded both positionally and in roster numbers in those games.
1. Failure to deal with George John Transfer Sage and Bobby Rhine Death
The wheels all came off for FCD in September and October.
We are all well aware by now of the Goerge John transfer saga with Blackburn. In summation there was a little finger pointing, some bad timing, John missing the CCL game at Toronto on August 25th, the deal falling apart, and John staying with FCD.
Then on September 5th, Bobby Rhine passed away. A tragedy that rocked the entire organization and fan base.
Here's some telling numbers...
At the start of the year Ugo Ihemelu and George John had both been hurt in the off-season. They started to get fit and gel right about the time David Ferreira was lost for the year. Through the Vancouver game, when Ferreira was hurt, FCD was giving up 1.5 goals a game and had a 2-1-4 record. After Ferreria was lost everything changed. It was in effect a start over on the season.
After that Vancouver game John and Ugo were back to top form and FCD locked down the defense. Between the Vancouver game, when Ferreira went down for the year, and the death of Bobby Rhine, FCD played 29 games in all competitions (CCL, USOC, MLS, RGP). In those games FCD allowed 24 goals for a 0.82 goals against average. Their record over that span was a glittering 18 wins, 6 ties, and a paltry 5 losses. If not the best team in MLS, they were darn sure close. FCD had an outside shot at the Supporters Shield and was closing in on LA, they were cruising through the US Open Cup, and were in a comfortable place in the Champions League group table.
After the passing of Rhine, FCD played 12 games in all competitions and allowed a staggering 23 goals. That's a 1.92 goals against average... more than an entire goal a game more. The record over that time with the defense in disarray... 2 wins, 1 tie, and 10 losses.
So is there fault to be placed here? How does a team deal with a tragedy like the passing of a club icon like Bobby Rhine. Combine it with the blow to chemistry presented by the Jon transfer saga. (side note: if you do the calculations through the game John missed its 0.8 GAA 15-6-4 before, 1.8 GAA 4-1-10 after)
On top of all that FCD had an insane game load in the hottest part of the year. Eight games each in July and August (when FCD was winning), 7 games in September and 6 in October that perhaps led to injuries to key players.
So where does the blame lie? Is it George John's fault? Perhaps some, but not all. Is it Coach Hyndman's fault? Some, perhaps not all. How about the other defenders? Sure, again some, but not all. Injuries to Daniel Hernandez and Andrew Jacobson? Sure, a bit. Did the front office not handle the Rhine passing well in terms of how it effected the team? I don't know, I though the showed class across the board on the Rhine passing. I certainly can't point to anything they did wrong.
How much was locker room chemistry shattered by John, Rhine, and whatever else we don't know about. It certainly seems like not everyone was on the bus by season end.
The bottom line, my friends, is that defense wins championships. The defense went to somewhere hot in a hand basket, and the FCD record payed the price.
Who's fault may not matter as much as understanding what all went wrong and focusing on getting it fixed.