It is offense that separates the good teams from the better ones in the North American Soccer League. While Team America hasn't found a consistent attack, the Golden Bay Earthquakes have one of the most effective front lines in the league. And it was that superior and expensive offensive talent that prevailed Wednesday night in Golden Bay's 3-0 victory.
The goals all were scored in the first half, two of them coming from Steve Zungul, Golden Bay's $250,000-a-year winger. Zungel, the Major Indoor Soccer League's all-time leading scorer, got the ninth and 10th goals of his first NASL season after midfielder Leo Cuellar gave the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead on a garbage goal at the 11:30 mark.
The loss ended Team America's four-game winning streak and dropped its record to 7-5. Moreover, Team America is entering the critical phase of its season, with four of its next five matches on the road. Among its opponents are the Chicago Sting (Saturday), the Cosmos and the Toronto Blizzard.
"We're still sorting things out," said Jeff Durgan, Team America's center back and captain.
Observers have been quick to criticize the team. But the problem Wednesday was that Coach Alkis Panagoulias used a style of play not suited to his personnel.
His basic philosophy is sound: concentrate on defense and work for the counterattack. But when effective counterattacks don't materialize--and they didn't against the Earthquakes--Team America finds goals hard to come by.
Wednesday, Panagoulias used Alan Green and Tony Crescitelli as his front-line players. However, neither midfielder Perry Van Der Beck nor Boris Bandov showed the kind of speed that is required to support a counterattack and ultimately make the 4-4-2 system work. Additionally, midfielder Hayden Knight had one of his worst games of the year.
Durgan agreed: "We don't have the speed to go up the wings and we don't have the speed to support the forwards."
Golden Bay Coach Don Popovic strongly supports the Team America concept and so was hesitant to criticize. But, he noted, "With players like Green and Crescitelli (both on loan from Golden Bay), you can play a 4-4-2. I just think they cross too many balls in the box. Green is 5-9 and (defender) Steve Litt was blocking Crescitelli."
The Earthquakes defeated Team America, 1-0, May 27 in Washington, and Popovic was concerned enough this time to tell his team that it needed a goal in the first 20 minutes or else "we'll be in trouble against these guys."