Cover Photo Credit: Rob Kinnan-NCFC
We all know that NCFC are in a rough patch. Since their win at Puerto Rico FC on May 20th, the club has not won a game (with the exception of that Charlotte beat down, of course). Excluding the Charlotte game, they have lost five and drawn one with their opponents outscoring them 12 to 6. For a team stacked with a lot of good players, this is truly unexpected. But as Ryan from Oak City Supporters pointed out on this week’s podcast, this skid occurs every season. What can Colin Clarke and Co. do to right the ship? I’ll give some suggestions.
A quick caveat to this: I think it goes without saying that injuries to key players – mostly the defense – have been a huge part of the decline. If you have been reading my previews this season, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of James Marcelin in general but more so when he plays that defensive midfielder role in the lineup. When NCFC had a good start to the season, I think it was because they had Marcelin in that role.
From my position, it looked like Colin Clarke was playing a 4-4-1-1 with Nazmi playing behind Fondy and Marcelin playing more defensively while da Luz controlled the midfield. In the 3-1 victory against Edmonton and the 1-1 draw at Miami (who are top of NASL), Marcelin held that position. At Puerto Rico, Clarke went with a more defensive midfield and paired Marcelin with Bolu Akinyode and NCFC won 1-0. Next game was a loss to San Francisco. Not in the lineup? James Marcelin. Going further, the last time NCFC won was with Marcelin in the midfield.
Once Marcelin was moved to center back to fill in for injuries, Clarke moved Akinyode into his position. Lately though, Clarke has chosen to go with a midfield duo of Nazmi and da Luz – which definitely has it’s perks offensively, but at the moment it’s not clicking because of finishing (see more below) and the defense is getting too exposed. As Kareem Moses/Steven Miller/Paul Black move up the field to support the attack, the two centerbacks are too vulnerable.
Indy Eleven absolutely exposed that flaw by playing Justin Braun and his stupid ponytail just behind Eamon Zayed. Braun would come into the space between the centerbacks and the midfield to receive the ball while Zayed played on the shoulder of the last defender to run into the space behind (which is why he was offside about seven times).
Basically I’m just trying to say that the formation needs to go back to playing a defensive midfielder to cover the back line. If it’s Marcelin when he’s healthy, great. If it’s Akinyode or someone else, that’s fine too.
As I touched on last week, Matt Fondy is really having a tough time out there. He’s now averaging 318 minutes per goal in NASL play. He’s been getting some great chances, but his finishing has been very poor. I’m not going to pile on Fondy because I’m sure it’s tough for him mentally right now, but I think to stop this slide NCFC needs to rely on Billy Schuler as the starting striker.
If you have been following NCFC I don’t need to go into the past couple of games for Schuler. After his 120 minute shift against Houston Dynamo in the Open Cup, it’s pretty obvious why he came off the bench at Indy Eleven (too late in my opinion). In the home game against Indy Eleven last weekend, he played up top with Fondy in a 4-4-2. As I went into above, this was a gamble that failed.
Is firing your manager midseason the key to success? How much patience does the front office have – especially in the midst of a MLS bid? Is it better to fire Clarke midseason and hit the reset button for the Fall schedule, or stick with him through the entire season to show MLS that we have stability? These are all questions that I’m sure give Steve Malik restless nights.
You can find JP on Twitter at @jp_rcs. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.