Chicago Red Stars forward Casey Nogueira and Naimo at the 2010 WPS Draft (Photo by Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos).
While the Pali Blues are clearly still in the mix to be a wildcard representative of the Western Conference in the USL W-League playoffs, head coach Charlie Naimo finds himself in an unusual situation of jocking for the postseason with a 2-3-2 record. The Pali Blues are the back-to-back league champions, and the team did not lose a single game in its first two seasons.
In this post with us, we asked Charlie if he would analyze the 2010 Pali side, as well as compare this season to a previous point of challenge in his coaching career. We also asked if he give a glimpse of what he has planned for the remainder of the regular season. As always, he tackled the situation head on and was very personal in his analysis.
Well, what is there to say other then the season has been a failure to this point. Personally, it is difficult when you lose only 3 regular season games from 2004-2009 and then match that number in only 7 games in 2010. I am certainly not used to this position, but the season is not over yet. We are very lucky to be in the best division/conference by far. Everyone beats and ties each other. I have been extremely impressed by the organization of the other teams. In fact, every coach in this conference has played professional soccer. I also believe that the average age of the players in this conference is higher. What I have noticed in each game is we compete against players that have their team as their #1 priority, and they are intent on getting in or back to WPS. It has been a great challenge, and I do not think our kids have bought in as quickly this year. Last year’s group didn't really buy in until around this point, but our record was a bit better and we were on top of the table. By the time the playoffs arrived, we were ready. In all honesty, we do not deserve to be 2-3-2. The only game that we clearly deserved to lose was at Seattle… if we were better that day, we would have stunk. I cannot remember a worse defensive performance in my coaching career... bad decisions, horrific positional play and terrible 1v1 defending, but all the blame is not focused on 1 line. As a team, our movement off the ball was shocking. Therefore, our possession did not exist, and we constantly lost the ball in bad places, forcing our defenders to make these hard decisions. It was just a nightmare. That said, I will also take some responsibility. I choose to gamble a bit and play Lauren Fowlkes as more of an attacker, going for goals in what I thought was a must-win. Who would have ever thought that Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Lauren Fowlkes would not manage a goal before the score was 0-3. In hind sight, I should have kept Lauren home, as even a draw would have us in the lead for second. I guess in hind sight, we are all brilliant.
The biggest games that hurt were the 2 Vancouver games. They are a very attractive team this year under Huby, and they certainly have some seasoned professionals in Tancredi, Robinson, Schmidt, Frank and a few others... but we have not played our best soccer against them. We deserved 3 points at home, out-shooting them 15-9 and 9-1 in corners… posts, crossbars and amazing GK play. On our end, we allowed attractive possession, but that only led to a few chances in which we lost marks and they scored easy goals. Before you know it, we lost 2-1. In Vancouver, we are winning 1-0 on a great effort by Christen Press and Paaske only to score on ourselves 5 minutes later and allow their go-ahead in INJURY time before the half, digging yet another hole... the rest is history.
It has been that kind of year. We have not been that bad by a normal standard, but it seems everything that can go wrong has. Between injuries, international call-ups that we did not expect, a few ITC issues, players not meeting expectations and literally getting punished for every mistake we make, I cannot believe we are still in it. I hope I can say that this time tomorrow as we play Force tonight (Editor’s Note: the match resulted in a 1-1 draw).
Differences - I try to compare why in the past my teams were able to overcome hardships and we have struggled this year. I want to credit my former youth club. In the past, I always had access to my young players. With Wildcats and Sky Blue, when we had a vacancy, I could call on one of the kids that had played for me or the club for years. They knew exactly what we wanted, and it was easy to plug them in and not skip a beat. The best example is playing Tobin in the W-League Final as a 15 year old in ‘04 vs. Vancouver, but there are plenty of others. One thing I can say about our PDA kids is that we tried our best to teach good soccer, BUT we taught them day in and day out what it took to win. And that they did. To defend some of the younger players here - as I said before, the competition is better (especially this season). I wish we had more time with these kids.
Going forward - with a win tonight and Monday, our playoff chances are very strong. By July 6th, we will have almost all players available. Plus, we have added a few surprises that are recovering from injury, and we will have from July 6 - July 16th to TRAIN. In that time, we are planning a mini-camp. We will have an older and more mature group on the pitch.
I think we will be a very strong playoff team if we get there. We will be older, rested, should be healthy, and certainly more organized.
This would be the most cherished trip to the Final 4 in my career... and stranger things than this have happened before. I have not lost faith in getting there. It all starts with our next gamble tonight, a 3-5-2... back to my roots, but really because that is the lineup that puts our best 11 on the field. If we have a lead in the second half, we will re-evaluate.