Is it time to hit the PANIC button?

It’s not news that this season for RSL has been an uphill battle. Maybe we all assumed it would be easier what with the striker lineup and a new formation that features them. And then we passed off our fears about the slow start to “well, it’s going to take time to adjust to the new lineup.” And the fact that one of our most dangerous players broke his foot in the first practice of the new season. Since then it’s been cobbling together a lineup that makes sense with the pieces we have available.

In software development, there’s a thing called “code smell” — it when you look at a piece of code and it just doesn’t seem right. It might not be anything specific, or it could be something that’s obviously been pieced together from outdated code rather than rebuilding the entire thing to be more efficient. Usually the results of code that “smells” are non-specific errors that point to a larger, underlying problem.

With RSL this year, you have to hit the brakes and wonder at some point if these lingering issues aren’t just symptoms of a bigger problem.

Jason Kreis was a great coach. Possibly better than we knew. He didn’t just lead the team to its’ one and only championship, he created a culture. He was (and is) hard-nosed, unrelenting, and driven. He pisses people off. We made jokes about how he never cracked a smile, not when he was in the stadium, anyway.

The first year he was gone, we said Okay, It’s not time to panic. Everything is fine, we still have the same team, the Team is the Star…nothing needs to change. And that’s how RSL played. They still had the same lineup — for the most part — as they did before, and they did pretty well that year (making it to an MLS Cup Final and all), there was no need to change course.

But even then, I was skeptical. A coach does not succeed by doing the same things the last coach does. A coach succeeds by putting their plan and their ideas onto the pitch. Say what you like about Jurgen Klinsmann, there’s at least one person who knows what he’s doing and that’s JK himself. He has a clear plan in his head and, while no one else may know what that plan is, no one can say that he’s just going along with what worked for Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena.

So when we switched our tactical formation to a 4-3-3, I was excited. Finally we get to see Jeff Cassar do actual coaching things, to put his mark on the team.

Unfortunately, that mark has earned us 26 points in 21 games. Six points behind the next team(s) in the standings and only 2 points shy of the bottom of the Western Conference.

While there have been some great success stories this season — Mulholland’s solid and consistent performance, Vasquez’s acquisition and dependability as a centerback, the emergence of Justin Glad and rise of (dare I say it) Aaron Maund, Jaime coming into form and excelling as a central striker — there have been problems, too. And I’m not talking about injuries.

  • Olmes Garcia’s goals could each be counted as flukes. He just happened to be there when the ball was coming. Moreover, he seems to be playing out of position as a winger. Yes, he’s been great in tracking back defensively, but his habit of streaking down the pitch and then getting caught in the corner hasn’t ended, it’s only become worse. He seemed to be a great option opposite a target forward like Sabo in that Fabian Espindola role, but playing as a winger doesn’t seem to be his forte.
  • Plata still isn’t 100% yet. Last year, the kid had jets attached to his boots. He may be back, and he may be on the score sheet, but he’s not “in form” like the headlines say. Not by a long shot.
  • WTF is up with Luis Gil, anyway? We gave him the number 10 jersey. We said, “no, really, this is your year. Show us how valuable you are to the team.” And he consistently underperforms (with occasional flashes of brilliance, like a flare shot into the sky) and is sitting the bench under a player who, two years ago, was playing on a second division team. And the bench doesn’t suit him — his performances since losing his starting slot have been lackluster to say the least.
  • Players meeting? And then a win following the players meeting? If your coach can’t coach you to a win, to the point that you need to have a players meeting before a game, that tells me something isn’t quite right. Maybe if you’re on a team with Abby Womback you can just make that work, but it’s not great evidence of a fantastic situation coaching-wise.

Basically, what it comes down to is that Jeff Cassar is just not as good a coach as Jason Kreis. This should surprise no one, but it leaves some very important questions: Will Jeff Cassar get better…eventually? Is Jeff Cassar fit to be a head coach at all?

I’m not sure. And my hand is hovering over the panic button.

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