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Riverhounds Rabbi Scouting Report: Ottawa come to Steel Town with a lot to prove

Riverhounds Rabbi Scouting Report: Ottawa come to Steel Town with a lot to prove

Credit: Ottawa Fury via Twitter

If you thought Toronto FC II looked a little shaky coming into their match against the Hounds, wait till you get a load of the Ottawa Fury.

The soccer team from Canada’s capital, and farm team to MLS’ Montreal Impact, have started the 2018 campaign poorly, losing their first two matches of the year by scores of 4-1 and 5-0.

Their match Saturday at Highmark Stadium, their third away game, has all the makings of a third straight defeat for the red and black. On the other hand, the great poet Bob Dylan once wrote ‘If you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.’

Formation and Tactics

The Fury played a compact 4-3-3 in both of their opening matches this year. In both of those games, they were successful at staying compact and defensive throughout the first half. Ottawa also prefer to play the ball on the ground and out of the back, and try to work their way inside and through the middle of opposing defenses. They don’t hit a ton of long balls, and they don’t play hardly any crosses at all, with the team attempting only 2 crosses against Tampa Bay, and only 4 against Charlotte.

In both their first matches of the year, the Fury fell apart after conceding a first goal to their opponents. In week 1 against Charlotte, that goal came in the 41st minute, while at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa Bay, Ottawa held off the Rowdies until the 60th minute. In that match, after letting in the first goal, Ottawa’s midfield three became hyper-offensive, leaving one player as a central pivot while pushing the other two high midfielders into the opponent’s territory, with the three forwards pushing up against Tampa’s defensive line. That left them easily exploited on several plays as the midfield three of Kevin Oliveira, Jamar Dixon and Cristian Portilla were in poor positions to defend the Tampa counter-attack. On one of the other Rowdies goal, the midfielders were appropriately positioned but made bad defensive decisions by collapsing too far back, chasing the ball and leaving the players they were marking, and generally playing on their heels.

It could be that this team has overall defensive problems, or it could be a more specific challenge that Ottawa has of struggling when then get behind 1-0. Whatever the case may be, getting the first goal should be a priority for Bob Lilley’s Riverhounds, since all evidence suggests that Ottawa will collapse like a poorly baked souffle at the first sign of trouble.

Personnel

One of the things I’m quite enjoying now as a writer on USL soccer is the veritable rogue’s gallery of players that turn up on some of the league’s teams. The 2018 Ottawa Fury are a perfect example of this: they are absolutely remarkable in the odd little stories and strange paths that led them to playing football for an undistinguished club in Ontario, Canada . Ottawa has players with prestigious soccer backgrounds that came from prestigious teams like Liverpool, Benfica, Sporting Gijon, DC United, and Sporting Kansas City. And yet simultaneous to that, each of Ottawa’s players are of little distinction: all of those players I just mentioned didn’t pan out it with those top-flight clubs, and spent their soccering lives falling down the ladder of world football.

Right back Kyle Porter played 29 games for DC United in 2013, scoring 3 goals. That would be impressive, if not for the fact that that DC United team was one of the worst in MLS history, losing 24 games with a goal differential of -37. Right wing Gerardo Bruna turned down a contract with Real Madrid in 2007 to sign for Liverpool. By 2014, the only team that wanted him was a club called Whitehawk, in the English sixth division. Kevin Oliveira was once traded by Sporting KC to Atlanta United, where he was promptly waived without ever even lacing up his trainers. 

Other players on the club have bounced about world football with enough frequency that they must have fantastic amounts of accrued frequent flyer miles. Center back Colin Falvey has played in Ireland, New Zealand, the US, India, and back to the US again. I’ve never heard of, nor can I pronounce any of the teams that Jamar Dixon played for in Finland and Sweden.

These are fascinating individuals worthy of being characters in a novel by Tom Robbins or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is the kind of stuff I love about the USL, people.

In the game against Tampa Bay, none of these players did anything to commend themselves, as the midfielders were pulled apart on a goal in the 70th minute (Tampa’s second goal of the game), Colin Falvey was skinned on a dribble from the right (Tampa’s third goal), and the central defenders were caught napping on a headed goal (Tampa Bay’s fifth of the game).

Of particular mention is goalkeeper Callum Irving, who really should have done better on at least two of the five goals he conceded to Tampa Bay. If I were Bob Lilley, my advice to the Riverhounds on Saturday would be to just shoot, shoot, and shoot in order to test the goalkeeper. He’s got a propensity for making mistakes that makes every ball on frame a potential goal, no matter what.

I would have spent time telling you about hulking 6’4” left back Onua Obasi, but the defender cracked in frustration in the 89th minute and put in a blatant stomp on a Rowdies player while in the process of hopping over him, earning a straight red. So Hounds fans won’t be seeing him on Saturday.

The exception to all of this might be Michael Salazar, who has 5 goals and 3 assists in 34 games over the past two years with the Montreal Impact, and starts regularly at left wing for Ottawa. He made some dangerous runs, but ultimately couldn’t connect with any teammates last Saturday.

Add to all of that one more interesting wrinkle: Ottawa had only five players on his bench against Tampa. Ottawa may have brought only 16 players on this road trip for some reason, and are now down one more due to the Obasi red card. Even if coach Nikola Popovic wanted to shake up the squad with some lineup changes against Pittsburgh on Saturday, he may not have a lot of options to choose from.

Form

Ottawa lost in week 1 to the Charlotte Independence 4-1, then took two weeks off and got hammered 5-0 last week by the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Pittsburgh really, really ought to win this game.

Mark Asher Goodman is a soccer fanatic with a particular interest in tactical analysis and advanced data and statistics. He currently co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has previously written for The Athletic, American Soccer Analysis, Around MLS, Burgundy Wave, and Last Word on Soccer. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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