Know the Enemy: Monterey Bay

After two matches there are two teams behind Oakland on goal differential in the West: El Paso Locomotive (?!) and Monterey Bay FC Union. Theoretically, then, something has to give this Saturday, when Monterey Bay travels to Laney to take on the Roots.

The early part of Monterey Bay’s schedule resembles Oakland’s from last year: lots of road matches. They started the season at Phoenix Rising (woof), before heading to Colorado Springs last weekend. They now get three matches in Northern California—at Oakland, at Sacramento, and at Bay Cities FC in Redwood City for the U.S. Open Cup—before road contests against El Paso, LA Galaxy II, and San Antonio. Only once the calendar turns to May will MBFC get to host.

As you might expect from an expansion side, MBFC is set up to play without the ball. We saw last weekend that Oakland has some trouble with a high press. Thankfully, it does not look like MBFC is particularly eager to press. They’d rather sit back and try to hit you on the counter. When the opponent possesses the ball in their defensive half, MBFC likes to set up in a 4-2-3-1, which is their preferred shape.

But once the ball crosses the halfway line, they defend in two relatively compact banks of four:

In good news for Oakland, neither Phoenix nor Colorado Springs had much difficulty advancing the ball up the pitch:

To their credit, MBFC was significantly more defensively secure in week 2 than in week 1. Although it frankly would have been a minor miracle if they didn’t improve. MBFC was an absolute mess during the first part of their match against Phoenix:

Against Phoenix, MBFC seemed possibly too concerned about the middle of the pitch, and let Phoenix run riot down the wings. That much was rectified between weeks 1 and 2. At the same time, Oakland has shown flashes of real creative attacking movement in its first two matches, and it’s hard not to watch Monterey Bay and think that Roots are going to have the space they need to really rip MBFC apart. For as organized as MBFC was against Colorado Springs, the defensive contributions of the holding mids were minimal, and the fullbacks repeatedly left the centerbacks out to dry:

It’s hard to say much of anything about Monterey Bay’s attack yet. The scoreline for MBFC’s opener, 4-2 to Phoenix, is a bit misleading, as the score was 4-0 by the 40th minute. MBFC got goals from two subs in the final quarter hour. And then MBFC was held scoreless by Colorado Springs, though they did generate a couple of half chances. So that’s zero goals during meaningful game time. Now, obviously, we here at RootsBlog are not going to cast aspersions on a team that can’t score outside of garbage time, but I will say that Roots appear to have a plan in attack. If MBFC has one, it is barely discernible.

What evidence we do have is that Monterey Bay appear to prefer to play down their left, through players like Mobi Fehr, Arun Basuljevic, Chase Boone, and Grant Robinson, all of whom are USL vets. Fehr, however, picked up two yellows against Colorado Springs (and might have deserved two more), so will be absent on Saturday. I am not altogether positive that’s bad for MBFC: Fehr started on the right side of the formation, and his tendency to drift left meant his counterpart at the base of the midfield, James Murphy, had a lot of space on the pitch to mind, something Colorado Springs regularly exploited to create opportunities in transition. (Basuljevic, to a lesser extent, is also responsible here: He starts in the #10 role, and also has a tendency to abandon the central areas, providing space to counter.) Chris Cortez and Seku Conneh are the supposed target men up top, but MBFC has had so little possession in the attacking third to this point that I don’t have anything to say about them.

Look, after Oakland’s first two matches, I refuse to be optimistic just yet. That said, if you wanted to be optimistic about this match, I would not blame you.

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