In what was a terrible week for me predicting results, the Game of The Week result stands out as one that seemed most unlikely. Not to belittle the Fuego players who played a fantastic game, but the 3 time League One Finalists were highly regarded and expected to pull out a nice result by MOST people in League One. This 2-0 result is a statement win for the new kids on the block and will hopefully strike just a little more fear into their upcoming opponents. So how did it happen? In a game that proves that taking your chances is far better than just having more of them, we see how control comes with a lot of responsibility. Mistakes and struggles within both 18 yard boxes marred what otherwise was a dominant performance by Greenville.
Greenville set up in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 with Ibarra playing as a second striker to Keegan that ended up being characterized by central progression, an abundance of chances, high fullback pressure to stifle build up, and a mid/low block that was hard to break down for the most part. Fuego set up in what looked like a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 that involved man marking in the midfield, Bijev out wide in an attempt to provide qualitatitve superiority and create chances (didn’t work that well on Saturday), RM pinching in to man mark when necessary to prevent quick switches of play, and a very structured pressing scheme that paid dividends. The main difference between these 4-2-3-1s was how they used that attacking mid out of possession. As the game went on, both teams made adjustments to sway the game in their favor, but ultimately Fuego didn’t need an adjustment to capitalize on the mistakes Greenville gifted to the visitors.
From the start, Fuego showed that their positional discipline didn’t stop them from pressing in dangerous areas. Early on, Chaney makes curving runs in dangerous areas to cut off passing lanes for defenders in order to force low percentage passes and mistakes. This particular incomplete pass ends up creating a positive situation for GVL, but some were not as successful. Still, early on Greenville did find success playing over the press before having to find a new solution to progression. This pressing was foreshadowing for how they would operate in the second half and what leads to the second goal.
Especially towards the beginning of the game, CVF pressed quite hard and Greenville found some success bypassing this with balls over the top or through passes to forwards, with this nice play down the left that was just a few feet from being a chance on goal. A number of Greenville’s best chances in the first half were early and in transition after bypassing the Fuego pressure. There were many more examples of this, but this first one was huge early on. Greenville also had early success with personnel rotations as seen in the second clip. They disrupted the defensive structure just enough for a nice low cross to be put into the feet of Gavilanes.
At the same time, Fuego used this pressure to create some nice chances for Chaney and constantly tried to isolate Bijev out wide in order to allow him to create chances. Jamie Smith did a really good job of handling Bijev for the most part, but part of this was due to Bijev being seemingly slightly injured for a good portion of the game. The playmaker still looked lively at some moments before being subbed off in the second half.
After a while, Fuego settled into a more structured defensive block and this gave Greenville trouble in progression, forcing Ibarra and the wingers to drop deep to try to turn and carry the ball forward. The rotations and runs from Ibarra and Keegan looked good in transition, but it ultimately didn’t offer enough once Fuego settled into their block. Both players still made good runs and interchanges, but they were not as effective due to the good coverage by CVF. One of those runs ALMOST turned into something beautiful after Keegan absolutely smacks a ball on the half volley that is well saved by Antman.
On the other side of the ball, Fuego struggled to truly progress the ball via passing due to being forced into a lot of long balls, but were able to drive in transition from time to time with the ball at their feet. They also had some success centrally playing through Greenville’s defensive block. Two chances in 1.5 minutes centrally caused last second panic buttons to be pushed by the GVL back line, Polak/Lee coming to the rescue both times. Ultimately, the classic GVL 4-4-2 out of possession adequately prevented any chances or danger from turning into a goal in the first 45.
Both sides tried some interesting, but basic rotations in order to break down the opposition block, highlighting here Ramos dropping into the RB spot while Akinlosotu drives forward and Casillas drifts inside. You’ll see this from Greenville’s left side a little later on as well. Ultimately, these interchanges helped progress the ball some, but neither team comes closer to scoring. A tightly contested first half came to a close scoreless with some changes to be made by both sides. Both teams seemed to be testing each other out in the first League 45′ they’ve played either ever or since November. Some low percentage passing and transitions gave way to a little bit more control in the second half for at least one team.
On Greenville’s end, Coutinho looked really good carrying the ball and driving forward. Also, his drifting into the half spaces and wide areas opened up the center of Fuego because of their desire to man mark the central midfield. For his first full 90’ in almost 3 years, this was quite the performance. It definitely feels like there’s much more exciting play to come from him.
Fuego’s Mohamed Dabo was so secure in the midfield, progressing the ball well, mopping up in front of the defense. A great first half performance by the midfielder.
In the second half, things started to change for both teams. Greenville replaced Ibarra with Walker, moving to a double pivot in the midfield and pushing Coutinho up. It gave Greenville alot more security on the ball and you could see the dominance in their possession for the 20 minutes they operate in this way. CVF was man marking the midfielders all evening long and this extra midfielder gave GVL a lot more options for combinations going forward to disrupt the tight marking centrally. Peep the banger from Jamie Smith as well.
You can see below how much more secure the midfield was on the ball in the second half. Fuego’s intermittent press didn’t give Greenville near as much trouble as they now had an extra passing option in deeper areas and it allowed Coutinho to play that second striker/10 role that Ibarra had been playing in the first half. Fuego didn’t seem to make many changes at half time and continued to operate as they had. Here you can see how the game changed from half to half with Greenville beginning to operate more centrally in the second half and Fuego struggling to keep any sort of consistency, often resorting to long balls that fell incomplete.
One thing of note: the left sided duo of Bijev and Smith really locked down Greenville’s right side in the second half. The Venton and Jamie duo had been prolific in the first half, but the Fuego pair forced them into quicker decisions and therefore often forced them to choose security over taking too many risks. Because of this, only three (3) passes were completed into dangerous areas from Greenville’s right side for almost the entire second half. Don Smart comes on in the 80th minute and puts a few passes into the final third from the right side/center of that midfield, but for the most part that wing was locked up.
The left wing, on the other hand, was prime for chance creation (as seen above). The smart rotations by Gavilanes, Polak, and Walker opened up a lot of chances or near chances for the offense. They often pulled Akinlosotu out of position and were able to get in behind, but ultimately nothing came of it. The Fuego defensive block did well to prevent most shots from testing the keeper and even if he was tested, Antman did a great job of providing security to the team. Fuego ended with 19 clearances on the night, which didn’t hold a candle to NCFC, but is still significant.
Ultimately, what undid Greenville and set Fuego alight was that central progression spoken of earlier, this time successful and a mistake due to lack of options and hesitation. The first goal looks exactly like the pattern of play from the 30th minute, but this time Chaney gets to the ball first and slots it home nicely from just inside the 18 yard box.
The second goal is partially a product of a GVL tactical switch and also some indecision. Until the 67th minute, GVL looked very secure in possession and were dominant on the ball, but still didn’t look like scoring. Something had to be done with GVL down a goal. Harkes put on Labovitz and takes off Pearson, which — of course he should. You have to know when to go for it and it was surely time. The negative effect this has is one less player available between the lines or to drop deep to prevent the high press along with the fact that Fuego was still matching midfielder for midfielder in a tight man marking scheme. Because they had moved back into that 4-4-2, dropping a midfielder into the back line or too deep would simply pull another man marking player into a press and put even more pressure on Christensen. These things happen and as long as they happen early in the season and not often, your team just gets a learning experience that will be very valuable later on.
Chaney senses indecision from Christensen just a minute before the goal due to lack of options and pounces on it the second time, stealing the ball from Christensen and tapping it into an open net.
Labovitz did bring a lot of life to the Greenville attack, immediately impacting the game with a shot on target from distance and a header just off. His presence was a net positive, even though they had nothing to show for it. Errors don’t negate the validity of the changes. Christensen is a fantastic keeper and will surely bounce back. There’s a reason he’s nicknamed Paul the Wall and it’s not because he’s typically easy to get past. And on the other end, you get the feeling that Antman’s name will only grow in popularity as the season goes on.
This game featured only 30 fouls which felt a little low to me (lol), but it is what it is. As the game came closer to ending, Fuego did an excellent job of disrupting any momentum with tactical fouls and time wasting (which are 100% allowed) that prevented Greenville from being able to get back into the game.
Ultimately, Greenville owned this game, but couldn’t do anything with the chances they created. According to Goals Added by American Soccer Analysis, they were more dangerous and positive in every single area of the pitch — except for two spots: Both 18-yard boxes. Fuego was more dangerous where it mattered and that’s what got them across the finish line.
It’s a good bit too soon to sound the alarm bells for Greenville or declare Fuego the League One champions (of course you’re likely reading this the day after they thumped Locomotive in the Open Cup, so maybe we should), but both teams learned valuable lessons over the weekend. The thing is, Fuego did *enough* to win. And that’s all that is needed in this sport, just enough to pick up three points. The good news for Greenville is that their dominance bodes well for picking up points throughout the season if it can continue — and long may it. As a Greenville fan, I am definitely excited by what I saw and can’t wait to see this dominance turn into goals and wins.
Milkman ‘Meh’ Player of the Match (Milkman is my resident Player of the Match picker. The ‘Meh’ has nothing to do with quality or even Milkman’s like or dislike of the player. He just wanted to say Meh before he chose as like a non-chalant gesture deal. It’s a bit.): Christian Chaney
Milkman wasn’t happy about this one, but Christian Chaney was clearly the man deserving of the award this week. Dynamic runs, great hold up play, and decent on the ball, but ultimately he popped up when it mattered and got his team two goals and three points. In fact, going back to the Goals added algorithm, there was no single player more valuable to his team in week 1 than Christian Chaney. One to watch for the coming weeks in League One (Obviously you’re reading this after their victory over L1 Open Cup punching bag El Paso, so you’re starting to get the idea that there is a lot of quality there that will be SO dangerous as they find their feet together.).
On the Greenville side of things, he really enjoyed Jamie Smith’s debut. For the rocket alone, he deserves this spot. Imagine if it had gone in. SO many good debuts on the Greenville side to build from.
This contest was fascinating and offered so many great insights into two great teams. There were so many videos that I didn’t get to share due to my desire to be *somewhat* brief. There will also be a lot more data and data visuals as the season progresses and we can actually pull anything meaningful from it. If you enjoyed this, we’ll take a look at 2021 League One Champions Union Omaha as they face Madison this Saturday in next week’s edition of GOTW! Also, if you liked this or thought it could use some improvement, talk to me! I created this account because I was originally wanting to work on my coaching licenses and move into coaching more, but life happened and I have had to put that goal on hiatus for now. So, i’m putting efforts where I can to continue learning as much as possible in this hiatus — and I also just really love local soccer (also, felt too painful to create an account about Arsenal tactics/matches at the time). I’m totally up for constructive criticism or discussion about the tactics and even being wrong! Thanks for interacting.