Earlier this month, President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko summarized what the club's style of play will be going forward.
"What we found...is that we need to evolve our style of play, and that’s an evolution that’s going to continue happening and one that’s characterized by being decisive but relentless," Bezbatchenko said.
He continued, stressing elements that started to particularly come through in the latter half of the season.
"We want to be a little bit stronger in transition, the ability to play quicker and get to the offensive half and the attacking third quicker, so we’re going to take steps in this offseason to improve our roster," he said.
Ahead of what will be a defining offseason for the club moving forward, current players supplemented Bezbatchenko's and head coach Caleb Porter's comments on the roster, the changes the team has undergone - particularly late in the season - and what all of this means going forward.
In terms of the changes Porter has tried to instill, defender Josh Williams said one of the biggest adjustments, in his point of view, revolved around the idea of where the ball is on the field.
"Something that [Caleb] said very early on that stuck with me, which is a huge difference from what we were doing, was before we were asked to build from the back – which we still are asked to build from the back – but before we almost had a lot of possession in our half, or the back third," Williams said. "A lot of the time was just switching the ball, trying to find an opening in our backend. Caleb still likes to have the ball, still wants to be a possession-oriented team, but in their half.
"So we like to pin teams back and move the ball around in their half instead of our half. To me, it’s a lot less pressure for us as defenders…but to me, what we’ve been doing and what Caleb is saying makes sense to me. I think the closer we are to their goal and the further away they are from our goal makes perfect sense to me."
Jonathan Mensah gave the analogy that the team's overall philosophy is like making the same meal, but with different ingredients.
"We are still a possession-based but we have this aggression, transition, counter-press – it helps when you have different kinds of elements and ways to break down teams. I think it’s something that really helped us during the second half of the season," Mensah said.
Bezbatchenko admitted there were times when he saw that style of play - primarily towards the end of the season - and that the process of establishing this new identity is an evolution, as well as an equation that involves time and will inevitably coincide with ensuing roster additions.
"I feel like there are moments this year when we saw that style…you saw this team evolve and become what Caleb wants it to be and what we want it to be," Bezbatchenko said. "First is how we want to play, in terms of our ability to be relentless on the defensive end, in terms of pressing and our ability to press and counter-press. Offensively, it’s how we want to move the ball up the field, and then some of the targets that we have in place for next season and how they work together as a group with our current roster."
Regardless of where they stand on the depth chart, measuring how newcomers fit into this team's identity and core group is another key piece, Porter said.
"You have to have good chemistry and good balance. That’s an underestimated part of putting a winning team together," Porter said. "You have to have the right mix of players and you can’t have the same types of guys. You have to have guys that complement each other and bring different dimensions and variety and yet there has to be a chemistry and cohesiveness."
Simply put, Bezbatchenko said that to instill this identity, the team needs depth.
"When it comes to our style of play, we need to be able to dictate the game. And so, there are a number of positions where we need to have offensive production, so whether or not that’s on the wing, up top in terms of depth positions – I think across the board we are evaluating our depth," Bezbatchenko said.