901 FC Falls Short in Tim Howard’s Memphis Debut 

click to enlarge Defender Zach Carroll celebrates with Liam Doyle after scoring 901 FC’s second goal of the night - 901 FC
  • 901 FC
  • Defender Zach Carroll celebrates with Liam Doyle after scoring 901 FC’s second goal of the night
Before kick-off, it was clear that Memphis had greatly missed 901 FC and the constant stream of Saturday matches at AutoZone Park. The lines to get in the stadium stretched all the way back to the gates, Bluff City Mafia was in full voice, and a regular-season record 8,571 fans took their seats to see what a new season could bring. And while 901 FC played some of its best soccer since the team’s inception, defensive errors saw the home side fall 2-4 to Eastern Conference rivals Indy Eleven.

With six new faces in the starting lineup, the organization immediately made good on its promise to play more attacking soccer this year. Memphis started strong out of the blocks, controlling the game and putting constant pressure on Indy Eleven. As early as the ninth minute, good interplay between Duane Muckette and Pierre da Silva saw the latter loft a one-touch pass over the defense. Last season’s top scorer Brandon Allen took it down with aplomb before cutting inside two Indy defenders and curling the ball into the net.

With momentum on its side, Memphis continued to surge forward, keeping its opponent on the back foot. In the 16th minute, captain Marc Burch looped a corner kick into the box, where a completely unmarked Zach Carroll dove to head home for Memphis’ second and his debut goal. Just over a quarter of an hour in, and Memphis was running riot. So dominant was the team that sporting director and owner Tim Howard, who signed a contract to join the playing roster as goalie last week, spent most of the first half watching play unfold from the edge of the box.

But, as in most things soccer, it just takes one moment to turn a game on its head. Indy, which had been pinned back for 45 minutes, scored on what was only its third shot of the match. While Memphis emerged for the second half with the same fire and enthusiasm, Indy slowly grew back into the match and eventually capitalized on several defensive errors to steal the lead.

Unfortunately, Memphis’ transition defense was found wanting. Indy was lethal on the break, with goals two, three, and four all coming on quick counterattacks. As the goals started to come in, the team lost a bit of its shape and found itself hard-pressed to snuff out Indy’s continued advances forward. Of the opponent’s 15 shots, 12 came in the second half. In that sense, it was very much a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance. However, considering how well Memphis played in the attacking third, there should be nothing but optimism going forward.

“I saw two great goals, about a half a dozen chances. For me, there is a lot of improvement in that area,” said head coach Tim Mulqueen after the game. “We took a conference finalist and put them on their heels. Our press was very good for long stretches of the game. I think we just need to do a better job of adjusting when teams adjust to us. I know this one stings for our boys, it stings for me, but there is a lot of good to that game as well.”

The midfield three of Michael Reed, Jose Baxter, and J-Christophe Koffi combined well in the middle of the pitch and were able to facilitate a good number of attacks. At right back, Mark Segbers’ positioning and speed made him a crucial outlet for Memphis on the wing; receiving the ball on the right side, he frequently surged behind Indy’s defensive line. Those forward runs should give Memphis an extra dimension in the final third from last season, when the fullbacks didn’t always provide quality service. Finally, Allen is already off the mark for the season; with a more promising attack, he should improve on his 10 goals from last year.

While the final result could have been different with a bit more composure, the start to the 2020 season certainly gives fans plenty of reasons to be excited about 901 FC’s sophomore season. As Mulqueen said, there are plenty of positives to build on when St. Louis comes to town next week.

901 FC’s next match is at home against St. Louis FC on Saturday, March 14th, 7 p.m.

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