Photo: Courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders
1-0 Loss to Dayton Dutch Lions
The Harrisburg City Islanders showed a lot of promise in their April 19 home opener against the Dayton Dutch Lions, displaying a knack for getting the ball to the feet of Morgan Langley and Jimmy McLaughlin’s in dangerous areas along the wings. Just like the season opener, a scoreless road draw against Wilmington Hammerheads on April 5, Harrisburg was able to hem the Dutch Lions in and prevent them from consistently moving the ball out of the midfield. While they had a less commanding lead in possession than their previous outing, the Islanders were able to recover much quicker after losing the ball, resulting in fewer fast break chances; it seems there was a lot of work put in during the long two-week break between matches to correct the mistakes of the overly aggressive high line used against the Hammerheads.
Just before the close of the first half, an errant Harrisburg corner would lead to a Dutch Lions fast break. Raphael Cox was dispossessed as the last man back covering for centerbacks Pedro Ribeiro and Richie Marquez, both of whom had rushed up to get involved in the set piece. Columbus Crew loanee Aaron Schoenfeld then made a move around Nick Noble, who’s sprawling save attempt seemed to clip Schoenfeld’s heel, and the Dutch Lions were awarded a penalty kick. Noble guessed right, but the shot went left, and the first half ended 1-0 in Dayton’s favor.
Harrisburg wasted no time in getting back into the swing of their offense, with a 46th minute ground cross from McLaughlin just barely out of reach of Edinho Junior’s outstretched leg. Harrisburg would continue this offensive pace until around the 75th minute, when the wind seemed to come out of their sails. A handful of decent chances and the creative spark of late sub Robbie Derschang would not be enough, and Harrisburg would fall to the Dutch Lions by a final score of 1-0.
Current Record: 0-1-1, 14th
- Jimmy Mclaughlin: The centerpiece of the Isle Guys attacking efforts, McLaughlin looked to have the Dutch Lion defense figured out from the get-go, taking defenders on one-on-one and constantly pushing the ball up the right flank. When Clesio Bauque came on in the second half and began to make his own bombing runs up the flank, McLaughlin was able to seamlessly switch between deep, cutting runs into enemy territory and checking to the ball to help boxed in teammates. Quick moves to create separation between him and his defender resulted in a handful of dangerous shots and near-assists.
- Richie Marquez: The Pomona, California native seems to be growing into his starting role on the backline quickly. A number of well timed tackles and expertly placed long balls came together to form a top class performance for the first year center back. Of particular note was a sliding tackle to stop an Eli Garner fast break in the 16th minute. It was perfectly timed, and probably stopped an early goal for Dayton.
Plenty of flair…
Harrisburg showed, once again, just how capable their offense is and made it a point to press into the attack early. McLaughlin and Langley had the numbers of their respective defenders, and it showed in the form of consistent service into the box. When they weren’t crossing, each winger displayed great ability in holding the ball up and getting the midfielders involved in the attack. The midfield trio of Yann Ekra, Jason Pelletier, and Cristhian Hernandez worked for every loose ball available, and smothered much of the Dutch Lions attack before it could get started.
McLaughlin led the offense, with all three of his shots coming as the result of tricky footwork to open up space between him and his defender. Junior, for the 55 minutes or so he was in, seemed to have little of the ball, but any one of the crosses that were ever so slightly off the mark when he was dashing through the box could have resulted in a goal.
The biggest positive to take away from this for Harrisburg’s offense is the way they were able to constantly keep the pressure on Dayton. Much of this article has been focused on McLaughlin’s efforts, but so much of this offense is based around long possessions and strings of ten or fifteen passes as the back four, midfield, and wingers work to find a hole in the opposition’s defense. On any given scoring chance, it’s likely seven or eight Islanders touched the ball before hand. Quick passing while keeping the ball on the ground is quickly making the Islanders one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in USL Pro, from a purely aesthetic standpoint.
…But lacking the finish
All this belies the fact that the Islanders have, again, been shut out. It’s odd to see so much offensive firepower from a team that has yet to score a goal in their 2014 campaign. There are a few major areas to address for Becher’s Islanders ahead of Thursday’s match in Orange County (10:30 pm, NSCAA TV, YouTube).
First and foremost is shot selection. A handful of decent build ups ended in shots blocked by the Dutch Lions defenders. Not to take anything away from a stalwart performance by Dayton’s defense, but consistently blocked shots means an Islander has either run out of options and is forced to shoot to avoid losing the ball, or is, for whatever reason, rushing a shot. When two or three Dutch Lion defenders are in a shooting lane, it almost axiomatically means there’s space open elsewhere. Pulling back, retaining possession, and restarting the attack would even be a feasible option if the final pass isn’t readily apparent.
Moving on to Junior. Edinho Junior was never really able to make his mark on this game. He was inches away from getting on the end of a few crosses, but nothing more than that. So much of the Islanders offense seemed to work through the wings partially because, in the final third, it seemed difficult to get the ball to Junior’s feet. While he made great runs into space and create a lot of dangerous passes, he seemed to be a bit out of sorts off the ball. I’d like to seem him either check back to the midfield more frequently to give Ekra and Pelletier another target, or work to pull the backline out of shape a bit more with his movement. I’m looking forward to see what he shows this Thursday.
Lastly, set pieces were a tremendous problem for Harrisburg. Harrisburg had thirteen free kicks, 8 of which put them in a very favorable scoring position. Combined with their 5 corner kicks, that’s thirteen excellent scoring chances from set pieces. A team that is going to possess the ball for extended periods of time is going to get fouled more often. Set pieces need to be a major area of focus for head coach Bill Becher and company going forward.
Good set pieces have a two pronged affect. Aside from the obvious benefit of scoring more goals, teams will likely not foul nearly as much. Everyone is afraid of fouling a team with a penchant for dangerous free kicks, and if the Islanders could nail down that aspect of their game, they could see a lot of space open up in the coming weeks.
Union on Loan
Jimmy McLaughlin made the most of his first start of the season. Absolutely on fire from the first kick forward, he did it all on the offensive side; took on defenders, created shots, passed and crossed into dangerous areas. It’s important to note just how similar a role he’s playing in Harrisburg’s offense as he could conceivably play in the Union’s. While Harrisburg plays a less conservative version of the Union’s 4-3-3, McLaughlin would theoretically fit right in as a right winger should he get the call from Chester. This could be a very good season for McLaughlin.
Christhian Hernandez put in another solid performance this week. With Langley and McLaughlin drawing much of the defense’s attention, Hernandez found himself with more space and more opportunity to go forward this week. He’s shown a penchant for getting into dangerous areas and drawing fouls, but I’d like to see him be able to beat his man a little cleaner, or find that last pass to finish off his run.
Robbie Derschang got another chance to impress coming off the bench this week. He made the most of it, consistently outpacing his man down the left flank and serving in a handful of dangerous crosses before time wound down.
Pedro Ribeiro and Richie Marquez have simply been outstanding. As the only goal came while both of them were in the box for a corner kick, I’d argue that the rookie pairing have yet to let a goal by them so far this season. While I lauded over Marquez standout defensive performance earlier in this article, Ribeiro deserves praise for filling the Okugo-esque role of distributing from the backline. Later in the game, he even moved forward. Someone in the USL PRO offices agrees, as Ribeiro found his way onto the Team of the Week.
- Thursday, April 24 at Orange County Blues (10:30 pm, NSCAA TV, YouTube)
- Saturday, April 26 at Sacramento Republic (10:30 pm, NSCAA TV, YouTube)
- Friday, May 2 vs Charleston Battery (7 pm, tickets available here)