Rafters Cruise to 3rd Straight Win

It’s been really easy to soccer-nerd’out over watching this Rafters team thus far. There are definitely things to fix, which is acknowledged by coach and player but it’s getting to the balance point of talent and comfortability- rather individual talent .

The Rafters answered a lot of questions as they’re replayed out of conference opponent, Rangers of Little Rock. They were fortunate in an away opener win, grabbing a goal on a fortuitous rebound but take 2 was nothing but clinical with a 2-nil win.

The team continues to ride the wave of success, while Coach Phillip gradually implements his tactical philosophies. The team looked more structured than the two previous games, as they organize by design, waiting for organization to become natural.

Last game against Little Rock, there were a couple instances that the fullbacks were caught too high up the pitch, making defending more about recovery than organization. However, the Rafters kept better defensive shape defending in tandem, rather than 1v1 battles on the wing that could lead to an open shot on goal. As for defending aerial balls, not only on set pieces, the team looked a bit shaky- as Little Rock squandered a couple of opportunities put into the box, that could have been punishing for the Rafters.

Oddly enough, the Rafters produced 15 corners last game and all that mojo evaporated, as they were held to none in this matchup.

The preferred number-one, Lance Quini finally got a much-deserved clean sheet that didn’t come without its moments of anxiety- most notably in the 22nd and 88th minute of the game. This comes in-part to the goal set by the team “score first” and “played with a lead”.

As the team sets in-game goals, we hope to see them continue to score actual ones in the multiple ways they’ve done. The Rafters completed the trifecta of all three phases of the field scoring, as number ten in position and shirt, Danny Aviles drilled an incredible strike from distance in the 71st minute. The Rafters created goal opportunities, however, Aviles’ goal was the only shot managed in the second half. We’ll take that percentage all day over a large sample size.

Due to injuries and simply trying to find the best combination, this is the third game where the Rafters have seen a different midfield and defensive line-up. Scott Halper started off as the end to end midfielder and his fitness did not disappoint, as the forward-turned-midfielder made plenty of tackles near the Rafters 18-yard box while having the most attempts on goal in the first half. Cam Free also moved from midfield to defense, showing his experience at organization can be used in both the middle of the park and in the back line.

Brett Barker seems to be early leader for the post-up style forward, as he was rarely dispossessed dropping into midfield or playing the point forward. This is decisively useful for bringing into play either wing forwards, as they make runs toward the goal or corner flag. We got to see a little old school Rafters magic with a long ball to Lance Crabtree in the 41st minute as he out muscled his defender taking the first touch, only to finish the sequence off with dazzling finesse.

The possession stats still depict a team that can be dominant in holding onto the ball, but at other times chase the ball without regaining it. It would be safe to anticipate high caliber teams only slightly out possessing them, while lower tier teams that play against the Blue and Gold will struggle to see the ball.

The Rafters will get to continue a run of NPSL rookies and second years, (three teams, not including Boca FC) until they play Dutch Lions, June 2nd in Conroe, TX.

Major Minutes

22nd minutea- Rafters defend in an organized flat 4-1-4-1. Curry(LB), Free(CH-L), French(CH-R), Walcott(RB) [4], J. M Santos [1], Crabtree(LW), Halper(CM), Aviles(CM), Carisquilla(RW) [4], Barker (CF) [1]

22nd minuteb– Being organized is only half the battle as the Rafters give up their first opportunity, despite good defensive shape. Ranger’s Alex Guadron (WF) receives a perfectly weighted through-ball to the left of the Rafters 18-yard box- time enough to touch and shoot. Guadron hits a vicious shot that nails the middle of the cross bar, falling to center forward Sean Keluo-Udeke. Keluo-Udeke hits a right footed shot from point blank range, however, Sean French (CH) sacrificially jumps in front of the shot as the Rafters last line of defense in the sequence of events. Quini (GK) daps up both French and his cross bar as a thank you for only conceding a corner and not a goal.

32nd minute- French spots Lance Crabtree making a run from his left-wing position to the top of the Rangers 18-yard box. French pings a 40-yard long ball to Crabtree, who bodies his defender off the ball, giving daylight for an attempt on goal. Crabtree strikes the ball- hitting about three yards above the left of the cross bar. It’s the first sign of danger the Rangers have seen from the home side with the Rafters only having glancing headers as shots on goal.

41st minute- The Rangers didn’t learn their lesson from the 32nd minute, as French again found his college teammate making a menacing run through the middle. With no one pressuring the Rafter’s center half, French double takes to Crabtree before hitting a 50-yard ball to the forward. Crabtree controls the ball before it bounces again shrugging off his would-be-defenders. Crabtree spots the keeper sprinting out to meet him and quickly assess the situation and hits a flat chip over Rangers keeper, Logan Valestin. 1-0 Rafters FC.

“I play with Lance in college so we kind of already have that link up. Lance’s speed is just crazy. We already call him a gazelle,” said French with a laugh. “So, once I see him running with the center half, he’s probably gonna get to it.”

56th minute- Triple substitution. Steven Bush for Andres Carisquilla, Jevanni Hinkson for Lance Crabtree, Angel Abregu for Scott Halper.

71st minute- Danny Aviles has a wonderful turn to create space and time on the left side surrounded by three guys in red and white shirts. After failing to be closed down, from 25-yards out- Aviles looks up and rips a right footed shot that curves ever-so-slightly inside the far post, across the keeper’s body. A goal has been a long time coming for last game’s Sid Potts Man of the Match. 2-0 Rafters FC.

Coach and Player Thoughts

“We talked about seeing what it would be like if we played with a lead. We wanted to link up play with our center forwards, building our numbers in progression. We were a little slow in our speed of play. But the ideas were there and when you’re trying to process ideas with not a lot of training, sometimes it slows things down. Team defensive and midfield shape was better. I think over all we were a little less gritty. Our work rate dropped, but I think the guys are still trying to think through their role a little bit more. But I do believe it will even itself out. It wasn’t pretty all the time but you could see they were trying to do the things we’re training to do,” Coach Phillip said.

[halftime adjustments]

“We made a couple adjustments at halftime of when we were picking up to defend. I felt like they were crossing our line of confrontation without pressure. Which is a problem. Every time we allowed that, they were picking players off in the midfield, breaking us down. When they were pinging balls, we said how we would defend the entry pass to their wingers. I didn’t think that was done well in the first half.”

[early scoring rate]

“We’re scoring at high percentage of the chances we’re trying to create. The counterpart to that is we’re not creating a lot. I’ve never really had a team where one guy or two guys do all the scoring, so I expect it to be spread out fairly well. But once we get our offense together, I think we’ll see more goals, but even now we’re still scoring about 2 goals a game.”

[changes in the back line]

“I’m impressed with their ability to have continuity in success without much continuity in personnel. They’re making it look good with whoever is there. Saul having him injured makes it difficult. We had to see what we could do without Cam to bail us out and I thought they did a really good job. Cam and French are both experienced and savvy at the back- that settled the team down well. Alex, Che and Tevin have come in and played some really good minutes.”

Whose paired with me right now [in the center] doesn’t really matter because I trust that everyone back there is more than capable. For college, there’s certain times that you have to adjust, but with this league adapting is actually constant. The same thing last year the center half were changing every few games so it’s something I’m use to now,” said French.

Full-Time Stats

Rafters FC

SonT- 4 SoffT- 4; Fouled- 4, Corners- 0

Goals & Discipline: 41′ L. Crabtree; Yell- C. Walcott; 71′ D. Aviles

Little Rock Rangers

SonT- 7 SoffT- 9, Fouled- 11, Corners- 4

Goals & Discipline: Yell- J. Butler 30’

Possession: 50.55% RFC 49.45% LRR


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