Greetings, fans ... it's time, once again, to ... STAND UNITED!
Well, the lads suffered a disappointing 3-nil setback to NIU on April 26, allowing three goals in 17 minutes by Enrique Banuelos. There are some takeaways from the match, which I'll get to in a minute. But first, a recap of the scoring ...
The opening goal came on just six minutes as Banuelos found himself cutting into the penalty area to the left of net-minder Javi Martinez. He let loose a low shot that found its way beneath the diving Martinez at the near post and nestled into the back of the net for a 1-nil Huskie lead.
Nine minutes later, Banuelos found himself all alone at the top of the penalty arc, about 22 yards from goal, and punched a high, arcing shot that caught Martinez off his line and dipped just beneath the crossbar, doubling NIU's advantage, earning Banuelos his brace and quieting the crowd.
On 23 minutes, it was Banuelos again, sitting on a hat trick, taking a delicious cross from the left side by Anthony Markanich and hitting it on the full volley past a stunned Martinez for the hat trick and the final score of the match.
United pulled Martinez after the first session (the match was played in three, 30-minute sessions) and replaced him with Patrick Smith, who made a couple of nice, comfortable saves, but was rarely tested the rest of the way as United settled in on the defense.
Some takeaways from the match ...
NIU owned the midfield ... Coach Ryan Swan put a 3-4-3 formation out for the Huskies, and played his midfield narrow to take away the center of the park. The strategy reduced United to playing long passes and diagonals over the top, daring United to a precision that was not evident in the passing. Chalk it up to United having had limited practice time as well as only one live match under their belt, while NIU was playing their fifth match of the spring.
United were not a good club with Adam Schmitt up top ... sorry, Adam and his fans, but he was left exposed for most of the opening session with little support from his mates as Coach Gecan went with a 4-3-3 formation that played more like a 4-3-2-1 formation for most of the opening session. Schmitt played hard, and was open on a couple of occasions, but the service he received often was either too long to him, or too wide of the run he was making. NIU simply cut out those errant passes and thwarted any follow-on by United.
Matthew and Lenth make a good pairing, but ... when the second session started, Jimmy Matthew was paired up top and Leo Lenth came up from his spot to create more of a 4-4-2 formation with two up top as Coach Gecan tried countering NIU's dominance in the midfield. And though the game started tilting United's way in terms of possession, especially in the midfield, the three at the back for Northern certainly made life difficult for the Dynamic Duo.
They created some spark of creativity with Matthew's speed factoring in as he made a couple of mazy runs, only to be betrayed by poor third or fourth touches. Lenth may be a sniper, but he, too, tries too often to take on three defenders with spin moves. While that may have worked for him in high school, collegiate defenders, not to mention seasoned UPSL defenders, will not be as fooled by moves.
There's an opportunity here if Lenth can play facing the goal and Matthew's speed can be used for darting runs to create space for Lenth to be creative. Too often in the match Friday night, Matthew's speed created space for himself, but NIU's back-line simply wouldn't leave Lenth unmarked. And when Lenth had the ball, Matthew seemed to wait for some wizardry instead of getting himself into space to either open the field for Lenth, or to be on the receiving end of a pass into space.
Matthew just needs to work on his touch. He often gets past a defender with a burst of speed and then, after turning the corner, puts a clumsy touch on the ball and loses the advantage. It's early in the season, but if he can sort out his touch, with his speed, he can be a talisman for United. He's young, so there's room to improve.
The last 67 minutes were pretty encouraging ... after Banuelos' hattrick, things settled in for United. Lineup changes made by Coach Gecan steadied the team and the switch to Smith in goal seemed to steady the entire back-line. The opening goal was a softie in football terms; Martinez simply left the ball get under him because he had the angle covered. If you watch the match again, you'll hear the surprise in my voice that NIU had scored.
The bad news is ... we lost. The good news is ... the game only counted for bragging rights in the first-ever DeKalb Derby ... and we'll get 'em next year. The team will have had a week to work on deficiencies and to solidify who will be the likely starting XI for the majority of the season. So, despite my seemingly depressive narrative, things will get better for the club as they spend more time together, get to know each other, and get settled into their roles.
The opponent this week are Cedar Rapids Inferno, and though they are an expansion club in the UPSL, they are far from rookies in the world of club soccer, having some of their players most recently playing for as Cedar Rapids Rampage in the Major Arena Soccer League. Match time is set for 5PM at the NIU Soccer Complex.
So, come on out and help the lads in their regular season opener!! And, if you can't make it out to the stadium, be sure to tune into the livestream via the club's website or MyCujoo.tv.
Until next time, this has been the view from the booth ... so long, everyone!
Brien Martin DKCU Play-By-Play Commentator