Possession is 9/10ths of the game
Five minutes into added time at the end of the first half in their first match at DC United, Christian Fuchs played the ball back to his goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina who took a couple of touches before sending a long kick downfield towards Titi Ortiz. United defender Steve Birnbaum rose above Ortiz to head the ball forward to Edison Flores who laid it back for Brad Smith on the left touchline.
He played it short to Moses Nyeman on his right who lofted a pass to the right corner looking for winger Griffin Yow. But Charlotte's Joseph Mora intercepted with his head only to see the ball fall to the feet of Michael Estrada whose shot from the top of the box would have been handled by Kahlina until it deflected off Fuch's back and into the net. That made it 2-0 in D.C.'s favor.
When asked about his team's commitment to playing the ball out of the back, this was the example offered by CLTFC coach Miguel Angel Ramirez of what can happen when a long ball doesn't find its mark and can counter a team out of its defensive shape.
Given that this was Charlotte's first real test under fire, some awkward moments and missed connections were to be expected. There were balls played to teammates under pressure that drew loud gasps and cries of disbelief from fans watching in person or on TV that just want Kahlina to clear the ball long and supposedly out of danger.
But it is those long 50-50 passes that Ramirez believes pose the most danger, such as the lead-up to that second Washington goal. He clearly understands that there are moments when such a clearance is necessary but, in this instance, Kahlina had time to find another option.
The close passing, possession-oriented game that Ramirez wants to play requires strong technical skill, smart movement off the ball by teammates to provide passing options or create space, and a great amount of trust between players regarding their abilities to both pass and receive the ball under pressure when necessary.
Against the LA Galaxy on Saturday night, those first game jitters from DC will be replaced by the adrenaline rush of the first home game, one that will play to a full house in Bank of America stadium where advance sales have already confirmed a new MLS attendance record.
Nonetheless, Charlotte will push its own agenda against one of the league’s glamour teams. It can be fraught with peril but when it works, you will understand why soccer is called the beautiful game.