Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Seattle Sounders 2 began with a poor performance in the first half.
Unable to sustain any kind of possession, or even string 3 passes together, the Republic spent the majority of the first 45 minutes pinned back inside its own half. The primary form of attack, long passes over the top of the midfield to Trevin Ceaser and Sammy Ochoa, was ineffective. Republic’s strikers struggled to get on the end of errant passes, and when they did, found themselves isolated from support.
Compounding issues going forward, the makeshift center back pairing of Julius James and Jeremy Hall was shaky. Poor marking on a free kick led to an early goal for S2 in the 15th minute. Although the home team was unable to fully take control of the game after the goal, they did at least match Republic for the rest of the half.
Coach Buckle made two substitutions at halftime, bringing on Emrah Klimenta for James and Wilson Kneeshaw for Caesar. He also changed the team’s tactical approach. Those changes combined to give Republic a holistic approach to dominate the second half.
This season Opta is providing USL teams with data, and their heat map shows the differences between Buckle’s first approach and his second:
I found the differences in the two maps striking. The heatmap for the second half of the game shows Republic’s advanced possession in the opposition half, greater control of the midfield, and increased touches in and around S2’s 18 yard box.
A few factors made these changes possible, starting at the back. Klimenta offered stability and familiarity along with a greatly increased passing range over James. Hall looked much more settled and was able to offer up some good passes as well. The increased comfort between the center backs had positive feedback throughout the squad. Everyone hustled and pressed S2 with confidence. Seattle’s attacks were also snuffed out before they got a chance to develop.
Midfield passing also improved. Adam Moffat was freed up to make some advanced runs and his directness through the center of the pitch added to the team’s build-up play.
Up front, the greater passing ability of the new CB pair found a willing target in substitute Wilson Kneeshaw. His intelligent runs offered a constant threat from deep passes. He also combined very well with Ochoa, whose fantastic link-up passing as a big center forward was impressive. Ochoa, Kneeshaw, and roaming midfielder Danny Barrera made some very lovely triangles at the top of S2’s 18, offering up 1-2 passes that added another tool to Republic’s attacking options.
All of this led to Republic really controlling the second half.
I feel compelled to mention Tyler Blackwood’s performance as well. He would have had a hat trick if his finishing had been better. He made powerful runs from wide areas throughout the game and helped stretch S2 in attack. This style of attack is a great way to advance directly up-field without the risk of long passes from the back.
Again, all the credit to Coach Buckle and his staff. They correctly identified various problems in the first half and gave the proper prescription to remedy them. If Buckle can apply that gameplan as Plan A from here on out, the Republic should be on course for a productive, entertaining season.