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Patience, finishing and 'a Plan B' can get Detroit City FC back on track

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — They can't all be winners.

But that certainly won't stop Detroit City FC's men's side from trying, as a rough showing against Sacramento Republic FC in the prelude to Saturday's national television debut versus El Paso Locomotive provided a number of important lessons that head coach Trevor James hopes will help the club find its form.

First, James said this week at training, they need to have a Plan B.

In its last match, Le Rouge (7-4-3) struggled against Sacramento's pressure.

A relentless pursuit of the ball deep in the defensive half forced Le Rouge (7-4-3) into conceding a whopping 26 interceptions, and while trying to overcome an early 1-0 deficit, DCFC simply didn't have an answer.

"(Sacramento) pressured us, they high pressured us, they pressured us hard, and it did actually knock us off track. We didn't really have a Plan B to what we were going to do. We kept trying to do Plan A, but it just kept working into what they were trying to do to us," James said. 

DCFC will face a much different look on Saturday against El Paso (7-3-6), which will air at noon on ESPN. The Locomotive are more of a possession-based team that uses ball movement for the purpose of drawing defenders out of position and using that space to attack. James said that he's noticed teams attempting to attack DCFC this exact way, and that more patience is required going forward.

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"We saw that in Pittsburgh in the first half. We've had it all season, but it's probably because we've been successful in the first part of the season, the first third of the season, that people are a little surprised about it," James said.

"They've worked on trying to suck us out to exploit what we do, and as I said, the further we go into the season, the more teams seem to be trying to do that. So we have to make sure we do keep our patience, keep our shape, the way we play."

Score more, concede less

While DCFC's 1.0 goals-against average this season ranks eighth-best in USL Championship, Le Rouge is averaging 1.67 goals-against over its last six fixtures (for context, New York Red Bulls II's 1.67 goals-against average on the season is eighth-worst in the league). DCFC hasn't kept a clean sheet in that six-game stretch after pitching four shutouts in the first eight games of the season.

Recent expected-goals (xG) numbers provide a little bit more reason for concern as DCFC looks to maintain its position in the table against heightened league competition. Le Rouge's xG differential on the season is minus-1.4; over its past two matches against Sacramento and Pittsburgh, the team amassed just a total of 0.8 xG.

It may be an oversimplification, but on the forefront of DCFC's mind is scoring more and conceding less.

Detroit City has allowed 10 goals in its last six USL Championship games.

"We're always focusing on finishing. I think that's something that our game lacks a little bit, is the amount of goals we score," forward Connor Rutz said.

"I think defensively, we've been so solid that we don't need to score so many, but in recent games we've not kept the clean sheets, so that's also what our focus is geared towards. So (we worked on) a little bit of scoring, but we're trying to get back to our clean sheet ways."

The main issue in the offensive half, and a focal point at training this week, has been converting chances into dangerous chances, James said.

"The quality of our final ball, whether it's a cross, or it's a ball in the box, or it's a little slip ball back, or whatever it may be, has just not been good enough," James said. "I think improving quality at cross or final ball just means doing more of it and hopefully working more technical stuff with that, and then obviously putting it into competition. So it's just repetition."

DCFC still sits seventh in the USLC table and fourth in the Eastern Conference, so nobody's pushing the panic button after a home loss and road draw. And if you're looking for a boost of confidence heading into Saturday, there's this: DCFC has never lost back-to-back games under James (5-2-0 since 2019) and is 2-0-0 following losses this season.

Injury report

Defender Matt Lewis remains the only DCFC player on the injury report this week.

Midfielder Brad Dunwell, who suffered a fractured knee and partial meniscus tear against Atlanta United II on April 9, participated in his first full practice on Tuesday.

Midfielder Brad Dunwell, who suffered a fractured knee and partial meniscus tear against Atlanta United II on April 9, participated in his first full practice on Tuesday.

"There were plenty of highs and lows, both mentally and with the knee as it progressed and healed," Dunwell said after his first training session back with the team. "It felt amazing to be back out and (I'm) super happy to have no issues with the knee and be fully cleared to play."

Dunwell was on the reserves list against Sacramento but said he was cleared to play on matchday, so there was no real chance of him getting in before getting the chance to have a full practice.

James said Dunwell will be a reserve against El Paso and the game will dictate whether he gets in.

Detroit City sellouts

Keyworth Stadium is poised to be rocking in Le Rouge's ESPN debut on Saturday, as the club announced Thursday that the game was sold out before matchday for the first time in club history.

The club anticipates a crowd of over 7,000 for a second consecutive week after yielding its highest attendance number of the season against Sacramento (7,011).

It also marks just the second time in club history that the club has sold every ticket available. The first instance came in 2017 against Midland-Odessa in the NPSL national semifinal; that game sold out on matchday.

Detroit City FC vs. El Paso Locomotive

Where: Keyworth Stadium, Hamtramck

When: Noon Saturday


Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.