The Ride Along
One of my favorite classes in high school was an admittedly soft one - Criminal Studies. In this class, we talked about criminal proceedings, saw evidence brought in from the local police and had to defend someone in a mock trial. But my favorite part of the class was when I skipped class as part of the class. As a 17 year old, someone thought it would be acceptable to let me ride along with a police officer during his shift covering my part of town instead of going to school. While the most wild thing to happen was a "loose dog in the neighborhood" call, it taught me about how job shadowing can really help one learn the ins and outs of someone's profession.
I thought this concept may help me better understand players on the Crew. If I followed just one guy for the whole game, I could really focus on how that player performed in a given match, and start to understand his subtleties. Hopefully you find that interesting, too. For the first edition, I picked someone that some fans have been frustrated with over the past couple years: Tony Tchani. Tony's passing accuracy has been on a downward trajectory since the first game, going from 90% in DC to 77% against Toronto. Daniel Paladini also looks to challenge for Tchani's role in the central midfield. That said, with the Crew's success so far this season, and with SDHC Berhalter's recent supportive comments, it's anyone's guess as to how the central midfield will be staffed in the weeks to come.
From a camera angle perspective, following Tony isn’t terribly difficult; he plays in the middle of the field and is 6’ 4". Still, I’d like to take a minute to publicly lobby for a "Tower Mode" on MLS Live, in which a stationary camera angle is available to viewers on every broadcast. This would be invaluable for those of us trying to understand what happened tactically in a game. Additionally, think about what a fantastic educational tool it would be for coaches or players looking to better understand the sport. Tower Mode – Let’s do this, MLS Live!
Fasten your seat belts; It's time for the ride along.
1’ – Corner kick. The Crew typically put either one or zero guys on posts; in this case, zero. Not how I would do it, but whatevs. TFC attempts tricky set play on corner in which DeRo loses Wil Trapp and curls from 3 yards in front of goal to about the penalty spot, where the ball drops in perfectly. Mis-hit. Tchani went from not covering anyone to having Bradley on top of him. Play was away from him.
4’ – First touch of the game. Tchani takes tricky ball out of the air, and with Bradley on his back and Bekker approaching directly from the front, deftly flicks ball into space and evades both players. Within another step or two he hands the ball off to Higuain. Well done.
4’-7’ – Staying involved in play, supporting the Crew’s high-possession style by staying in front of Higuain. Crew could have been avoiding Bradley, who was occupying the same area of the park, but Tchani’s touches here were quick, efficient and short passes.
7’ – After situation with Higuain and Anor doesn’t work out in which Tchani had pushed forward, TFC counters. Tchani not exactly on his horse to get back, but Crew have enough coverage and utilize Tchani in counter of their own.
10’ – Bad clearance by Gonzalez leads to sequence in which Bradley loses Anor and Trapp, evades Parkhurst and scores at a crazy angle on Clark. Tchani’s culpability: none.
14’ – First giveaway. Was double-teamed by DeRo and Bradley. Not exactly a felony.
16’ – Well-threaded pass directly up field to Higuain.
17’ – Gets beat by Bradley as MB makes run to goal, but luckily he mis-kicks it.
24’ – Shields ball well from Bradley, sends to Anor who starts the attack. Then wins foul just beyond midfield.
25’ – Higuain’s chip into the box doesn’t seem to interest the 6’ 4" midfielder. Same thing happens a minute later. Why not? Is Tchani unskilled at headers? Dude is tall; this should be a strength.
28’ – Called for foul dueling for TFC goal kick. Good, aggressive work.
28-30’ – Three times part of a strong build from the Crew. Starting in the back, many passes were strung together and resulted in a close-range attempt on goal. Ends with Tchani committing another foul, this time getting his arms wrapped around DeRo, who quickly lots the ability to stand up.
33’ – More disinterested movement at the top of the box as the Crew take a corner.
34’ – Fantastic skill displayed along the endline, evading defenders and eventually drawing a foul in a very dangerous area.
36’ – Misplayed crossing pass in the attacking zone results in a turnover.
38’ – Bradley again flies past Tchani, nearly gets point blank attempt. Tchani eventually clears the ball off the dugout shelter and into Berhalter’s head. The unflappable coach was slightly flapped.
40’ – Non-Tchani-Related: Josh Williams TOTALLY one-footed a throw in and got away with it. Weird.
42’ – Slots another pass directly forward, which directly leads to good attacking opportunity and corner kick for the Crew. Ensuing corner kick again finds him nowhere near the final ball.
43’ – Attempted clearance up the line goes wide and out of bounds.
45’ – Pass to Higuain intercepted.
51’ – Play happening all around him, Tchani follows with his eyes and a slow jog.
52’ – Stunts counter attack long enough for teammates to get back into position.
55’ – Crafty play by Tchani as he slips by Bradley and sends ball to Josh Williams.
61’ – Bad giveaway near defending third is luckily not punished.
62’ – Wins long goal kick. This seems to be a true strength of Tchani’s.
65’ – For maybe the 3rd time in the game, Higuain dribbles past Tchani with the ball. Often this results in Tchani pulling a Soul Coughing, with the "Move aside and let the man go through" move.
66’ – Find the ball at his feet at the 20-yard spot, drives a bullet towards goal that needs to be pushed out by Cesar.
72’ – Jumped and turned when he thought Mark Bloom was about to shoot. Bloom slips a simple pass forward, resulting in a point blank shot on Steve Clark. Jumping in order to block a shot is a pet peeve of mine; that should be out of a player’s system by now.
74’ – Subbed out for Arrieta.
After spending this quality time with Tony today, I feel a bit closer to understanding the enigma that is the Crew's own TT. First, being 6'4", the dude glides around the field and doesn't appear to frequently... run. He's not explosive. Now, I'm not saying that he doesn't work hard, or even that he's not fast. As many Buckeye football fans know, Terrelle Pryor never seemed to look like he was turning on the jets, even at a full sprint. It's just how some guys run. That said, Tchani seemed to lack a killer instinct near the goal. On corner kicks, he wasn't fighting for positions or winning headers. I would think that the Crew could really benefit from Tchani getting on the end of some Pipa or Anor-driven corner kicks.
Another thought that I had going into the game was that many of Tchani's passes went backwards. Against Toronto, about 1/3 did, with most of the other 2/3 going forward. When Tchani's passes went directly forward, it almost always resulted in a clear attacking opportunity.
Third, Pipa and Tony need to go out for coffee and figure out how to not land on top of each other so often. I sympathize with anyone charged with having a soccer mind that moves as quickly as Higuain's, but avoiding situations where Tchani freezes in order to let Pipa slide through would give the Crew additional attackers at every turn.
Finally, you can tell from the game notes that Tony's main competitor in the Toronto game was Michael Freakin' Bradley. I'm not sure you could pick a tougher assignment in MLS. Did MB fly past Tony a few times? Yep. Did any of those times lead directly to a goal? Actually, no. I'd consider that a personal victory if I was #6. While no Crew player will feel satisfied after a loss, Saturday's performance by Tchani wouldn't be one that I would think warrants an immediate change of course.