Anatomy of a Goal (Counterattacking Edition)

On Saturday, Wanderers’ Alex De Carolis had, I think pretty indisputably, his best game as a Wanderer to date–until the 85th minute when a single, small mistake undid it all.

Filling in for Ndzemzela Langwa, De Carolis was up and down the left flank, defending against arguably the best winger in the league in Nico Pasquotti while also linking up with Mo Kourouma and Andre Rampersad to create several chances.

It’s unfortunate none of them led to a goal, because De Carolis’ play deserved one.

His best chance came late in the second half, when substitute Zach Sukunda–another fullback who’s been in need of some big moments–played a lovely pass that missed a surging De Carolis by inches.

So close. How often have Wanderers had a fullback, let alone two (Sukunda came on as a defensive winger again, but often plays the role more like a fullback), leading the line? It’s the kind of attacking play Wanderers fans have been yearning to see. It’s a good pass–Sukunda shows excellent vision to hit it–and if De Carolis gets a toe on it, he’s in.

Ten seconds later, Cavalry had the game’s only goal, and it was De Carolis’ fault.

Not because he missed the chance, but because this was a ruthless counter-attack by Cavalry. We don’t usually think of the Cavs as a counter-attacking team–they tend to press, aiming to turn the ball over higher up the park.

But after losing a whole pile of duels in the first half against Halifax, Cavalry adjusted, playing a touch more within themselves, looking to use pace to attack Wanderers down the flanks when De Carolis and right fullback Andre Bona got forward. Tommy Wheeldon Jr. also brought on both Sergio Camargo–who excels at hitting passes into space–and Oliver Minatel, who’s intelligent enough to use them.

Sukunda’s pass ends up in goalkeeper Marco Carducci’s arms, which is where we pick this up.

This doesn’t look like a counterattacking opportunity. Cavalry have five guys essentially in their own box. Despite a 0 – 0 at home, Wanderers have only Akeem Garcia sitting high.

Behind him, though, Wanderers have all kinds of problems with their shape. The broadcast shot isn’t wide enough to capture it, but if you’re watching this on the highlights, it cuts to a close-up of Sukunda jogging back before realizing too late that Nathan Mavila needs to be closed down.

Behind Sukunda, De Carolis is still getting back into position. Bona had been pushing forward outside of Sukunda’s run to give him an option on the right. Elton John was also busting a lung to get forward and support De Carolis.

This has to scream “Danger!” for Wanderers. Usually, it does–this is not a team that often leaves itself open like this, but the game state–0 – 0 at home–meant it was natural to open up a bit.

There are two ways to disrupt a counter-attack. One is to press yourself, taking the risk that space will open up behind but also catching the countering team pushing numbers forward in support. A counterpress, basically. The other is to sit slightly deeper and contest the ball forward, taking away any space the counter-attacking team might exploit.

What you can’t do is neither.

Mavila sees the space behind Bona–#3 in blue. Camargo positions his body really well, and can do this because Peter Schaale is ball-watching a bit when Mavila picks it up–if you look away from the ball, you’ll actually see Jordan Brown taking advantage of this, too, which will become relevant in a sec.

Schaale sticks to Camargo and Chrisnovic N’sa is across quickly to deal with Brown–this is good defending. Right now, everything is going mostly alright for Wanderers, despite the initial counter.

The glaring thing here is that Schaale is about to get beat for pace. I’d be more critical of this is Schaale hadn’t played every game of an insanely congested schedule so far. Camargo’s not that fast, but he uses his body position to turn again. Schaale’s actually too tight here–over-correcting for his slightly slow response–and what he really ought to do is foul Camargo and take the yellow1You can actually tell referee Filip Dujic is anticipating this because he’s continued his run towards Schaale, and is focusing right there rather than starting to turn his body to anticipate the cross.

Note Alex De Carolis at the far side of the shot–he looks wide open, but he has a job here, too, it’s just not on screen at the moment. Note where he’s looking, too–right across the back line, at Camargo, anticipating the cross.

Ah, yes, there he is.

Oliver Minatel is just entering the frame, having made a late run forward. I’ve circled him in red.

Alex De Carolis makes a choice right about here, and it’s the wrong one: he sees Jordan Brown, probably knows Brown is one of Cavalry’s main danger men, and goes towards him. It’s the wrong choice because N’sa is still quite well positioned here–maybe you want him a half-step closer to Brown, but he’s face-up to the cross and he’s goal-side of Brown. The chances Camargo is getting this ball to Brown right now are low.

(In fact, even if Brown tried to pull up and drop into the little pocket at the top of the box, it’s well-covered because Andre Rampersad is already guarding the cut-back and Elton John, #5, just entering the frame as well, is also moving to cover that.)

Camargo doesn’t even both trying to hit Brown. He takes an extra step or two, which is smart because it forces Christian Oxner to commit to guarding the angle at his near post. Minatel continues his run, Camargo takes a glance a split second before playing the pass, and plays a perfect rolling pass2This play isn’t possible on Cavalry’s home pitch, which is ironic. to Minatel.

At this point, there’s nothing Halifax can do–this is a goal barring a massive miss from Minatel. It comes about because Cavalry saw the space and attacked it as fast as they possibly could. There’s no possession in this play. No pass counts. Just direct play and heaps of smart vision.

The earlier choices by Wanderers’ defenders leave them with four guys in the six-yard box and Minatel with yards of space. There’s blame to go around, but unfortunately, this is Alex De Carolis’ man. I’ve circled him in red.

He can’t actually do anything to Brown if Camargo does blast this across the face of goal, because he’s on the wrong side and not touch-tight. Remember, De Carolis made the decision here to commit to Brown, even though N’sa has stayed in good position throughout to deal with him.

Instead, De Carolis, as the trail fullback, has to tuck in and stay a bit higher, remembering that there’s a winger somewhere out there behind him.

Remember, though, that De Carolis had just made that surging run forward, missing Sukunda’s pass by a toe’s length. He then turns and actually does manage to get all the way back to his own goal-line, in the 85th minute on a hot day. That’s some tremendous running from De Carolis, but when you exert at that level, your heart-rate goes up, and that in turn affects decision-making and situational awareness. It’s not that De Carolis isn’t fit–we have visual evidence here that he is–but that, in this situation, it’s imperative to know assignments instinctively, because instinct is all you’ve got to work with.

That means communication is vital, too. Could De Carolis have given a shout to Elton John here? Or vice-versa? John is kind of marking nobody–he’s the high central mid on this play, so he doesn’t have as stringent an assignment. His reaction to this, though, comes after the above shot, more or less as Minatel is striking the ball. Too late for him to yell to De Carolis. Peter Schaale, who’s usually the most vocal on the back line, is tied up with Camargo. So is Oxner, by this point.

All across the league, teams scored counterattacking goals. Ryan Telfer burst down the wing. Even Forge had one, and they don’t usually play that way.

As teams get more comfortable, and the days get hotter and the schedule tougher, games get decided not by smooth build-ups but by ruthlessness when opportunities do present. Likewise, teams that defend do so as much through concentration as athletic ability.



About Dylan Matthias 244 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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