With the first Austin Aztex invitational camp this weekend, Anthony Mannino sat down with coach Paul Dalglish to discuss what he is looking for in certain positions at the camp. Dalglish assembled a new squad in 2012 and led the squad to a top eight finish in the PDL. We open the 2013 season with part one of our invitational camp preview, where we look at the criteria Dalglish looks to identify players and Mannino’s insights.
“That’s the difference between playing with 11 men and playing with ten, is your goalkeeper able to use their feet. The best possession-based teams in the world have goalkeepers that can use their feet, because it gives you an extra man to help you build up (the attack.) When your keeper can switch the play or play penetrating passes through the forward into the midfield, it gives you a massive advantage. We certainly will be looking for our goalkeeper to be good with their feet to give us a numerical advantage for when we are in the buildup phase of the game.”
It is unsurprising, due to Dalglish’s comments above, that he once picked Victor Valdes as the best keeper in the world because of his ability to pick out players with his passing for Barcelona. Devin Cook, the starter for the Aztex at the end of the year, did a solid job with his passing and didn’t make mistakes out the back. Although he doesn’t own the same passing range as Valdes, Cook did well moving the ball and helping Austin transition into attack. He also made impact saves for Austin each game during the playoff push.
“As I said, the same as the goalkeeper, they have to be able to link with the midfield players. The same as anybody that is going to play on our team; they have to be able to possess the ball. We are looking for a central defender that can play alongside Travis Golden. Someone that is comfortable on the ball but also can defend. We were lucky with Ross Kelly who had a little bit more experience than some of our other players, and he gave us great composure and leadership qualities out of the back. I think Travis is a great player, but he is kind of a quiet player. I think next to him, it would be great if we could find a dominant central defender and a good communicator. If we could find one of those at tryouts, it would be very beneficial.”
While Golden’s name did not find its way to the stat sheet with a goal or an assist, he was a vital player for the Aztex. He holds all the skills and physical abilities necessary to be a center back in the PDL: size, aerial strength, positional awareness, and one-on-one defending. What separates Golden is his passing skill set. Not only could the defender find midfielders to help transition the attack, Golden could also bypass the midfield with his long passes and find Austin’s wide players and striker in space. It was a real asset having one the best passers on the team at center back.
“Modern day fullbacks are not only defenders, but also attackers as well. They give you width when you are building up. We were very lucky to have people like Zack Pope and Matt Boullt, who were incredible athletes that could handle that role. They were very good defensively, but they also gave us great options in the final third with their athleticism and getting up-and-down. That is what we are looking for again–outside backs that can play length of the field and give us width. If they can do that, it allows us to involve another player in the attack. The fullbacks can give us a numerical advantage in the final phase.”
The important part is not just having the ability to come forward and attack, but also the willingness to quickly get back into the proper defensive shape. Matt Boullt and Zach Pope were involved with the offense (they both had two assists), but they also hustled back into their defensive position. Fullbacks in Dalglish’s system also need to able to cross they ball well, because the wingers cut inside so frequently.
“The key to us is the midfielders have to be able to keep possession, be technicians, and pass and receive the ball to a higher standard, so we can keep possession for large spells. I think that was the key to our success last year: the amount of possession we had in game. We would control possession. Especially when we scored early and teams had to chase us. We made it very difficult for teams, because we were good at keeping the ball. I think that is the number one thing I am looking for–technical ability. Not only keeping possession, but also you have to try penetrating with that possession–play penetrating passes. We like to play with high pressure, and we need people that are athletic and willing enough to try and win the ball back as quick as possible.”
Considering Tony Rocha and Dillon Powers’ play last year, it is hard to pick one midfielder over the other. It was their midfield partnership that best displayed what coach Dalglish wants. The two players never lost the ball, and they controlled the game from the midfield. The two games Rocha and Powers started in the midfield, the Aztex won by a combined 13-1. Both players expertly dictated the play of the game, while having the ability to play the penetrating passes in the attacking third that coach talked about. Their play made it easier for the attackers to roam throughout the pitch and find open spaces.
“We are not going to find another Kekuta (Manneh). I am a big admirer of (Manneh), but that is what happens. You lose your best players, and then you have to find another top player. That’s what we are going to try and do. We just have to find a solution involving other players to allow us to have as much success if not more than last year. When you talk about Kristopher Tyrpak, he is unique because there is a shortage of left-footed attacking players. With (Tyrpak) being left-footed, it gave us real flexibility on the ways we wanted to play. Because we could have him on the left where he could use space to go outside and deliver the cross, or the right were he could come inside on his stronger foot to combine or finish.”
The wide players were a position of strength for the Aztex. Manneh and Tyrpak scored 20 of Austin’s 40 goals, and opposing teams struggled to contain them. With Manneh gone, the Aztex will miss a player that can beat defenders one-on-one on a consistent basis. He could also make the crowd ooh and aahh over his dribbling ability. Tyrpak possesses an aerial threat, while also being a lethal finisher like Manneh. Austin also had depth at the wide position. Chuy Cortes came off the bench down the stretch, and he was top ten in PDL assists with six.
“We have to try and see who is returning from last year, because we don’t know if Khiry (Shelton) is going to be available. Obviously, Kekuta (Manneh) signed with MLS, so we won’t have him. We are just waiting to see who is available, and we will probably need to wait until the last tryouts until we know which one of our players that were here last year are returning.”
Last year, Shelton represented everything Coach Dalglish wanted in a central striker. He was tall, power, and skillful with the ball. He allowed the Aztex to clear the ball forward while he held the ball waiting for everyone to join the attack; he also played well with his feet, so Austin could keep the ball on the ground.