Crossing to the Big Man
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m a big fan of having strong, tall forwards. The smaller, agile and crafty forwards definitely have their place and are fun to watch. Watching Lionel Messi dribble through a series of defenders while keeping the ball taped to his shin is incredible, but I’m a sucker for the quick, unexpected goals that develop from target man.
For me, a big man up top is responsible for two things. First, he needs to be able to play with his back to goal. If he can do this, sliding quick passes to overlapping midfielders provides 1-2 passing options that are glorious to watch. Second, he needs to be able to win the crosses that the midfielders are able to swing into him. In order to with crosses, he needs service. Service has been something hard to come by for Heinemann.
It’s not really a secret that Michael Nanchoff is the engine that makes the Rowdies tick. As such, he leads the team in total crosses (and is second in the league) with 22. Out of those, only six have been from open play. Out of those six, only one has been successful. On the left side of the field, Khalif Alhassan hasn’t whipped in one successful cross and neither has the fullbacks – Ben Sweat or Zach Portillos – behind him.
Now, compare those “left-side” numbers to their counterpart. Eric Avila has sent in a team-high 10 crosses and three have been successful. Darnell King has sent in eight and connected on two. In all, the right side of the field has contributed to over twice the amount of crosses the left side has provided.
While receiving proper service from your midfielders is important, it’s far more important to be in the right position to receive the cross. From Miami FC to FC Edmonton, Heinemann’s position was drastically different.
Against Miami, Heinemann’s average position was actually BEHIND Junior Burgos. If he’s behind the “attacking midfielder”, he can’t play into easy 1-2 passing. At least, he can’t if he wants to be in a decent position in the final third. On top of that, it’s difficult for midfielders to send him any crosses when he’s farther away from the 18-yard-box than he probably should be.
Things were very different against Edmonton. While the Eddies aren’t exactly playing well at the moment, Heinemann still did an excellent job of pressuring the backline and staying ahead of his midfield. While the goal didn’t come in from a text-book cross, Heinemann had several close calls that just as easily could have been goals.
Not only does this kind of pressure force the defense to play on their heels, it also creates valuable space for other midfielders to utilize. For a prime example of this, look no further than Alhassan. The 25-year-old constantly drifts into a middle role, overlapping (horizontally) with Heinemann. It’s this kind of space that has led to Alhassan’s team-leading (technically, he’s tied with Avila) six chances created.
A bit of the attacking increase comes down to the attacking midfielders, too. I love Junior Burgos, but Georgi Hristov helped to push Heinemann up the field in a way he didn’t do against Miami.
My point is this: Currently, the Tampa Bay Rowdies attack is a bit predictable. Crosses come from the right side of the field. The left side of the field pinches inward. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s something the team needs to even out as the season goes on.
Heinemann has shown that if crosses are sent into the box, he can handle it from there. The left side of the field needs to help supply that service a little more, either from overlapping fullbacks or Alhassan staying out wide more often.