Sunday, February 17, 2019

'19 Carolina Cup Grades, Rd 1

Long live the Carolina Challenge Cup. Believe it or not, this year marks the 15th consecutive year for this little four-team tournament that always manages to get a strong effort from players and coaches. This year sees hosts Charleston Battery (15th appearance) face up against the Columbus Crew (6th app), Chicago Fire (4th app) and FC Cincinnati (1st time).

Last night the 1st games of this mini round robin kicked off. Columbus took on Chicago and Charleston took on FC Cincy.

As far as season projections: I've got Columbus finishing near the top of the East, with Chicago and Cincinnati finishing near the bottom.

Results aside here's team grades based on performance vs what I expected:

A sloppy tackle by Wil Trapp saw him get sent off, but it sent this game into an interesting direction. With most of the team returning, I was looking to see if Crew players were engaged. Playing with 10 men for 60 minutes was a great way to measure that. They were. I was also interested in seeing new ideas from Caleb Porter, but we'll get an incomplete on that via red card.

Chicago looked like they have for the past few years. A handful of talented players mixed in with a bunch of guys that have no business being out there. They played hard and desperately wanted another goal to put away Columbus. Perhaps if they were facing any other MLS team they would have gotten it but the Crew pretty much brought everyone from last year back. It was pretty much like facing a season ready team.

Another thing from Chicago I was looking for was a plan. They didn't seem to have one. Their coach seems like a nice guy, but that's about it. "Get forward, play tough defense, look for the break" is not coaching.

Charleston gets a C grade for playing up to their competition, which they usually do in this tournament. FC Cincy was looking to come out of the gates firing here but the Battery soaked it up and played competitively.

In a few ways, they are being built like the Chicago Fire. Half the starting XI is good, the other half bad. I wasn't looking for much last night. The effort was great, but there was no clear plan. Facing an inferior team of players should afford you some latitude in trying out stuff. Even if it doesn't work, it's a great opportunity to work on it. Cincy just went out and played general soccer (if that makes any sense). I don't care if they made mistakes, just wanted to see some structure in what they were doing. There wasn't much. About what I expected, I guess.

The season starts in a couple weeks. Major takeaways from last night for each team:

1. Columbus: Are ready to go
2. Chicago: Good effort, bad coach, sloppy roster build
3. Cincy: Sloopy roster, no plan

Next round of games are on Wednesday.

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