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Nothing is more frustrating as a coach than giving up goals late in the game. Even more frustrating is when you feel like doing so is becoming a pattern with no end in sight. For Adrian Heath, this pattern is beyond irritating.
“Three points. Did our best to throw it away,” he said with obvious frustration. “Tried to throw away 75 minutes of good work by people deciding that they know best. They’ll do what they want rather than doing what we know is right.”
To be fair, the Loons had 75 solid minutes following the first whistle of the game. Darwin Quintero looked as sharp as ever, netting himself a goal while providing the assist for each of the other two goals. Miguel Ibarra gave him a nod of approval after the game, noting, “Offensively, we keep the ball well. We move it around. We create a lot of opportunities. And I think that’s been throughout the entire season. And ever since Darwin [Qunitero] got here, it’s been even more. I think we just gotta continue doing that.”
However, despite a strong start, teams can sometimes have a tendency to let off the gas toward the end of the game. Be it fatigue, complacency, or just plain mental lapse, it happens. The best teams know how to combat the end-of-game mental fatigue, through late substitutions by off-field leadership or line regroups via the captain or other leadership on the field. The Loons have not quite figured out what that looks like for them yet.
Defender Michael Boxall had a lot to say about the team’s late lapse of focus. Joao Plata, a Real Salt Lake substitute in the 66th minute, kept the defense busy during the later stages of the second half before finding the net not once, but twice in the last fifteen minutes.
“It has happened too many times and it can’t happen. It should be a comfortable last 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean we should start operating at 40 or 50 percent,” he said. “There are good players in this league. As we have shown, if you give them a half a yard of space or half a chance they can beat you. I don’t know how many more lessons like that that we can get away with.”
Ibarra also seemed baffled and frustrated by the result. He scored the final of the three United goals in the 68th minute before the Loons began to fall apart.
“I don’t know, 15 minutes, the last 15 minutes, we just decided to get comfortable. We weren’t playing how we were since the beginning. And I think we just gotta be better,” he said. “3-0, we gotta act like it’s 0-0 still and keep going, or maybe get another one, or just defend. And make sure we get a clean sheet.”
For the Loons, the answers to their woes might be found within themselves, a commitment to finishing games as well they start them. It also might be found in the leadership on the field in captain Francisco Calvo, or in the stalwart leadership of Ibarra or Rasmus Schuller, who have both been putting in their reps and have seemed to hit their stride this season.
For Heath, the answer might be found in considering his own mid-game choices, shifting the tactical choices, adjusting the lines, and playing a more defensive game when the Loons are ahead.
“[We] Needed to win the game. And set us up. And as I’ve just said to the players. For us to… for me to be in this mood after we’ve won a game and played so well for 75 minutes. Is ridiculous. But, we tried to do it against Toronto. We’ve done it on the road. Did it in Colorado,” Heath stated. “Maybe, maybe they’ll start listening to the coaches instead of everything else that’s going around the club.”
Whatever is happening behind the scenes for the Loons, it seems to have had ripple effects on the field. Hopefully, though, the team will begin to sort things out, ideally quickly with a number of games coming up over the next couple weeks.
I am sure Heath hopes that a new day and a new game brings a shift in focus and motivation and, as fans of the club, I know we are hoping for a breath of fresh air soon too. While close games make for good games, some games are too close for comfort.
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