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Diving into the 2018 roster

I was listening to Jordan Cooper on Final Judgment yesterday and was a little surprised about one of his conclusions: Louisville City is done signing players. I recoiled a bit at that idea, because I have concerns about depth at a couple positions. I still expect the club to sign at least one more player before the end of February, if not more. Assuming O’Connor intends to stick with three at the back in defense, let’s take a look at the roster as it exists today and see who’s right.

Goalkeeper:

Greg Ranjitsingh, Tim Dobrowolski, Chris Hubbard. Three deep. We’re done here.

Forward:

Luke Spencer, Cam Lancaster, Ilja Ilic. Given that there’s really just one guy playing center forward in the 3-4-3, going three deep at this position is optimal, especially in the case of injury or suspension. No concerns here, either.

Attacking Midfield:

Brian Ownby, George Davis IV, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Richard Ballard, Niall McCabe, Magnus Rasmussen. O’Connor plays two attacking mids that flank either side of the center forward in the 3-4-3, so going six deep for two spots is fine and good. Also, depending on the game situation, Lancaster and Ilic can either start or sub in for one of these spots. We’re done here, too.

Defensive Midfield:

Paolo DelPiccolo, Devon “Speedy” Williams. Here’s where I get worried. These are the center two guys in the midfield band of four. These guys are the most important players on the team, as they dictate tempo in midfield, where most of the game is played, and are an important catalyst in initiating the offense, winning possession, and distributing the ball.

Last season, O’Connor got by with three guys who could play this position, these two plus Guy Abend. Guy’s gone off to Reno after his contract wasn’t renewed in November. Speedy’s already been called up for a couple of friendlies with Jamaica in February, and we can expect he’ll keep getting call-ups throughout the year. That could leave Morados with just one guy to play two positions at the same time, which is a logical impossibility. Worse, if Paolo gets hurt or suspended AND Speedy’s playing with dem Reggae Boyz, we’re down to zero defensive mids.

I had really hoped that City might sign Kenardo Forbes or Wal Fall from the Rhinos (RIP in peace) this offseason to add some depth and competition at this spot, but that didn’t happen. Forbes went to Pittsburgh and Fall went to St. Louis.

Last season, Sean Reynolds, Sean Totsch, or Tarek Morad could have filled one of these spots in a pinch without necessarily impacting depth in the defensive back line. O’Connor doesn’t have that flexibility anymore, though, as neither Reynolds nor Morad are returning and Totsch will need to be playing central defender full time. The options, then, are to either convert one of the attacking mids like McCabe or Rasmussen to a defensive midfielder, or to sign somebody else we haven’t considered.

Wingback:

Kyle Smith, Oscar Jimenez, Pat McMahon. We’ve got a similar problem here as we do in defensive midfield. Last season, if Oscar or Kyle were out, Tarek Morad filled in. He did fine. I’m guessing that’s Pat McMahon’s role in this group, also. I’m skeptical about whether he’ll be a consistent contributor, or if he’ll even play at wingback. Then again, I was skeptical about Oscar before last season started, too. Look for McMahon on your mid-season defender of the year lists come June, I suppose.

I still think Morados could use one more guy at this position. It’s a hard one to find the right guy for, however. Wingbacks in O’Connor’s system probably have to run more than any other position on the field. They have to get the ball to the center forward or attacking mids, and prevent the opposition fullbacks from getting upfield to do the same thing. It’s super hard, and not everyone can or wants to do it. Smith and Oscar led the team in minutes last season, which was insane to me given their workload. There’s no reason to think they aren’t up to the task again this year, but it’d be nice to have more than one player as a cushion in case they can’t.

Central Defender:

Paco Craig, Sean Totsch, Alexis Souahy. Three guys to play three positions. I’ve got faith in Paco and Totsch, but it’s asking Alexis, just months removed from college soccer, to start and play every minute of every game all season is a lot. If one of the three goes down or gets suspended, O’Connor can probably still get by with a formation switch to a four-man back line of two centerbacks and two fullbacks. But I think that’s something JOC would prefer to avoid. I know I would. That’s why I think he needs to sign one more guy here.

So who’s right? Jordan could be right: Louisville City can get by with the guys that are currently on the roster. City probably has too many attacking midfielders, and it wouldn’t surprise me if O’Connor has plans to turn one of them into a defensive player. I, however, think that’s a bad decision.

First, O’Connor got pretty lucky with injuries last season, in my view. Credit should go to the players and the training staff on that front. But getting through the season without any margin for injury or suspensions in central defense or defensive midfield is highly unlikely.

Second, leaving the roster as it is assumes someone’s going to be playing out of position on a pretty regular basis in defensive midfield. USMNT fans will remember this was a common complaint under Jurgen Klinsmann, one that was backed up by quite a bit of evidence. O’Connor wouldn’t be maximizing his players’ potential by asking them to regularly play out of position. Sure, “total football” has its merits, but that’s not the system that Louisville City has played under O’Connor.

It also assumes no one’s ever going to get hurt in central defense, or that if someone does go down, there’ll be a switch to a 4-2-3-1. That’s do-able, but it wasn’t the best use of City’s roster last season. Adaptability is important, but to force yourself into that position when you don’t have to is non-sensical.

In sum, getting another defensive midfielder and another centerback isn’t a luxury, it’s just prudent. NOT doing that is too big a risk. Not doing that requires players to play in positions where they aren’t comfortable or as effective, and paints City into the position of having to play a shape or formation that doesn’t maximize the team’s talent. I say stay on the lookout for more help on the roster before we play Young Harris next month.

COME ON, CITY