What a crazy week! To go from the low we felt in Columbus to the satisfaction we felt in Chicago and back to the joy we felt at PPL Park on Saturday night. To summarize it all, I was very proud of the guys in the locker room, specifically of the character that they showed. The Chicago and New England games were two very different wins and to get six points was important for all of us.
I have said it many times, that I thought we’ve had good performances recently without the results we wanted. Chicago was a perfect instance of where we played our style of soccer and scored three fantastic goals, while New England was about digging in and grinding out the result. Both were examples of how we’re heading in the right direction.
The biggest part for us in Chicago was the reality that we were out of the playoffs. We only had ourselves to play for – our fans, our pride, our club, each other. It was really important to get the win.
We made a couple of changes in Chicago. Jack McInerney was in from the start; Keon Daniel was inserted in behind him and Michael Farfan was on the left.
Jack earned that start with his performance in Columbus and is a player we really believe in. His role in Chicago was to play as the high striker, to put pressure on the two central defenders and leave the space behind him for Keon and Michael. Keon was important for the game, with his strong play and versatility. Having seen him play very well at center forward with the Trinidad and Tobago national team, we felt that he could be a great link between midfield and the front and we asked him to get forward and join Jack in the box (no pun intended).
The first goal set the tone and was indicative of our attitude from the opening whistle. We wanted to put them under pressure and get the ball moving on our terms. We wanted to create a rhythm that we live by, which is a possession-type attack. Early in the game, we were able to do that, to the point where that goal was created out of both the pressure that we put them under and the fact we kept the ball.
It was also huge how we finished the first half, especially with the fact we had to bring Cruz off and Gabriel Gómez on. Gómez coming on changed things for us tactically because we decided to put him underneath Jack McInerney. We moved Keon to the left and Marfan (Michael Farfan) to the right-hand side, so we dealt with a lot of changes. However, there is always a lot of interchanging and mobility in our attack, so the players are used to those type of changes on a regular basis.
Our message to the players coming out of halftime was to go out and get that second goal. The set up for the second goal began with Gómez receiving a ball with his back to goal, laying it off to Marfan, who then played it forward to McInerney. We had exactly what we look for; someone who can hold it, lay it off, play it through and finish with a sublime strike for a goal. If you watch the replay, you can tell that Gabriel meant every bit of it and places it with power right into the upper 90. It was unbelievable and if it doesn’t make candidate for goal of the week, something’s wrong!
Chicago’s goal (the only negative on the whole night) changed the momentum momentarily and then Guillermo Franco being sent off changed the game even further. When a man is sent off it’s too easy for the team that goes up a man to sit back, so we asked our players to step up and press, get the ball, go in search of a third goal and close it out.
The insertion of Antoine after the red card stretched Chicago even further which resulted in a great goal – all set up by Marfan’s classic 1 v 1 skills. It underlined a complete performance and gave us the drive to really look forward to Saturday’s game.
Changes had to be made going into Saturday. Garfan (Gabriel Farfan) replaced Sheanon at left back and Gómez played beneath McInerney, which he did at the end of the game in Chicago, so it was a smooth transition for us. We basically played the same system but we asked Gabriel Gómez to push a little higher up and join Jack. We wanted to come out and put New England under a lot of pressure.
I can’t emphasize enough that Saturday was a mentally tough game to get up for. To have such an emotional high on Wednesday and play your third game in a week, our start was critical. When you don’t convert a couple of chances, they can come back to haunt you. We didn’t get the goals that we felt we deserved early so we had to grind it out and keep going after it. We haven’t had to win games like that before, so it was a new dimension for the team and showed positive progress. Any time you can get a shutout and win a game 1-0, it’s a great sign. I’m sure we’d all like to see lots of goals – but when you get it done, it means a lot.
Keon was a standout again on Saturday, playing a well-rounded complete game with a lot of good touches, impeccable footwork and the weight of his pass, which is always pretty exceptional. He mixed it up too – winning aerial challenges, getting into tackles and putting them under pressure.
Jack McInerney did what all good strikers do, by responding to a couple of early missed chances by moving on and going again and getting the goal. I’ve known Jack a long time and he has that goal-scorer mentality and the instincts to find the net. I’m looking forward to watching that streak continue.
Even though there is no first team match this weekend, we have a number of reserve league games over the next two weeks, so a lot of the guys who aren’t seeing first team minutes will get some very important opportunities in games. That’s crucial for a lot of our young guys and it will be a good way for us to train and prepare for that final stretch.
We’ve continually talked in the locker room that you, the fans, deserve to see us at our best and to see us win games. It’s about the pride that we have for each other, the character of this team and making sure that when we’re at home, we show everyone what we’re capable of. Being able to bring three points home from Chicago and then win again at home, in front of all of you, felt great.
In some ways, these breaks are tough when you’re in a rhythm and you’re winning games. Despite the difficulty of having back-to-back-to-back games, we’ve been really good so the challenge now is to recover, build again for Houston and to take our momentum through to the last three games of the season. Can’t wait to see and hear all of you at PPL Park again at the end of the month!
Thank you for your support,
Jungite Aut Perite