I saw Derek Foran gift them the ball again. Like I saw Mike da Fonte do. Like I've seen Chris do. Like I've seen Derek do in Portland.
It was another case of déjà vu for the 11,569 fans in attendance at Bonney Field on Saturday night. Just like in last week's disastrous midweek loss against Kitsap Pumas, Republic gifted the game away to their opponent via naïve defensive lapses; on this occasion, the culprits were midfielder Danny Barrera and defender Derek Foran.
After the game, Head Coach Paul Buckle didn’t mince words when addressing the media after the team’s most recent defensive capitulation, this time to the LA Galaxy II.
I’m not going to let them get away with it. I’m not going to brush it under the carpet and say it’ll be okay next week because we’ve gone from being a very, very capable team with and without the ball to a team now really that is taking risks at the back which we don’t need to do.
For the most part, there are two schools of thought among managers when it comes to a situation like this: stand by your players or publicly out them.
Some coaches, like former Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers, choose the first option, as when he stood by Steven Gerrard after his infamous slip against Chelsea in 2014 that effectively cost Liverpool their first Premier League era title. Rather than point the finger at Gerrard ("there’s no blame on Steven"), Rodgers instead focused on Chelsea’s "frustratingly" defensive approach to the game ("they played with a back six"), as well as his team’s valiant effort to rally in those conditions.
Other coaches, like Jose Mourinho (incidentally, Rodgers’ nemesis that night), have been known to opt for the latter option, using it as a technique to motivate under-performing players, as he famously did with Karim Benzema during his tenure at Real Madrid.
Was Buckle correct in publicly calling out his players? He certainly has the right to do so, and granted, none of the players in question have as storied a history with the club as Steven Gerrard did with Liverpool. And while Buckle did praise the team’s character in coming back to earn a point, there’s a very telling comment that was subtly sprinkled into his post-match statement: "[w]e’ve gone from being a very capable team with and without the ball..."
It’s true that even despite these recent defensive lapses, Republic is currently tied for the best defensive record in the league, having only conceded 6 goals in their 10 USL matches thus far, which is only matched by Red Bulls II. On the offensive end, it’s another story altogether.
Republic has scored 9 goals through their 10 USL games of the season thus far. To put that into context, amongst the 29 teams in the league, Republic currently ranks 26th in goals scored.
The numbers show these isolated defensive lapses aren’t solely to blame for the team’s current malaise, and by extension, its position in the Western Conference (9th as of this writing). It’s a problem that Republic has struggled with throughout the season; incidentally, their best offensive spells have been in friendly matches. That the team has been performing better in inconsequential, pressure-free games should not go unnoticed by a head coach before heaping extra pressure on his players through public criticism.
Mistakes happen. It’s part of the game and it happens to even the best of players at the highest of stages. But it would be a mistake to place the blame for Republic’s mediocre season on just a few.
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