Harrisburg City Islanders

Harrisburg Report: Embarrassing result against Charleston

Photo: Courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders

The Harrisburg City Islanders didn’t exactly have the best week.

4-0 Loss to Charleston Battery

In their match against Charleston last week, a radically altered back four saw Ethan White and Colin Zizzi start over Pedro Ribeiro and Matt Bahner. Bahner ended up being moved into the midfield, and Robbie Derschang and Garret Pettis rounded out a lineup that was, in all likelihood, the result of scheduling more than anything. A trip out to the west coast for two games, with the next week’s rest cut short by a Friday match, meant that a few players will probably need some rest. For the Islanders, that meant doing without Jimmy McLaughlin, Clesio Bauque or Edinho Junior in the starting 11. Ribeiro and Cristhian Hernandez sat out due to injury.

The game started out well enough for the Islanders. The Battery were trying a formation shift, but lining up with an additional forward seemed to give the Islanders better control of the central midfield.

This tactical advantage only seemed to last for the first 10 minutes or so; past that 10-minute mark, the wind really came out of the Islanders sails.

With the momentum starting to swing Charleston’s way, a long ball over the top found Whitecaps’ loanee Omar Salgado, who left White in the dust and calmly chipped Nick Noble to put Charleston up 1-0 in the 25th minute.

Charleston chalked up another goal later in the 40th minute. A free kick from their own end of the field found Salgado, whose well timed flick would put the ball at Zach Prince’s feet just outside the box. A step ahead of Zizzi, he had just enough space to slide the ball past Noble for the Battery’s second goal.

In the 65th minute, a break down the Islanders’ left wing turned into a loose ball that found Whitecaps loanee Andre Lewis for Charleston’s third goal.

From there the wheels really came off.

Later that same minute, Whitecaps’ loanee forward Mamadou Diouf pressured Ethan White as the Isle Guys tried to get some kind of sustained possession going. White was fouled, but it was a routine shirt tug or a minor contact foul (it’s a bit hard to tell from the angle in the video).

The problem was how White handled it. Clearly frustrated over the current state of the game, he seemed to turn and punch Diouf just as the whistle for the first foul blew. Diouf certainly sold it, but any time you turn and throw you arm at your opponent in a reckless and dangerous way, you’re going to get tossed.

After White’s ejection, Diouf scored the Battery’s fourth goal, rounding out the day with a second chance finish in stoppage time. The final whistle surely came as a relief to those still in the stands.

Current Record: 1-3-1, 13th
Standouts:
  • Jason Pelletier: Of all the defensive breakdowns that took place on Friday, few were straight up the middle. Pelletier remained disciplined throughout the match and didn’t let anything easy by him. He also ended up tracking Salgado often, as he tended to pull off the backline to either check to the midfield or force the defense to adjust.
  • Yann Ekra: One of the few players to not completely deflate once the game started to swing heavily in Charleston’s favor, Ekra continued to press the attack from the middle, forcing Charleston to commit a defender to close down space before he could find his target on the wings. On another day, rapidly pulling the other team’s defensive shape apart like Ekra was could make a tremendous difference, opening up a lot of space for his teammates in dangerous areas. His performance was good enough to earn him an honorable mention in the USL Pro team of the week.
The Ribeiro Experiment

Many Union fans have expressed frustration over seeing Pedro Ribeiro moved to the backline. The Union loanee received a lot of attention ahead of the draft for his combination of attacking flair and size. Some even put him in their opening day starting 11, though he would go on to be loaned to Harrisburg before ever seeing first team time in the regular season.

Since then, he’s been a dynamic new piece of the Islanders back four, quickly developing a report with fellow Union loanee and center back Richie Marquez. While he’s had a lot of success playing center back, many would see him moved into the midfield. After all, if the ultimate goal is to see every player the Union have loaned out return game ready, why not play Ribeiro in his natural position?

Ribeiro likely started playing center back due to Coady Andrews’ preseason injury, but some still questioned why Ethan White wasn’t the one to initially go on loan and take the role.

This single outing may not be representative of White as a player. But he’ll have a hard case to make for a return to the lineup after his mandatory suspension, especially if Ribeiro bounces back from injury with a good performance. While it’s unfair to wholly blame one player for a goal, White made critical mistakes during the Battery’s first two tallies, both coming from poorly marking Omar Salgado. Topping that off with a red card is not the way to jump to the top of the depth chart.

The position is Ribeiro’s to lose at this point, and if he performs up to the level he has been all season, it could be his for quite some time.

The fault is not in our stars

Okay, maybe the Shakespeare reference is a bit dramatic, but it really sums up Harrisburg’s dilemma nicely.

Many see the Islanders as “underlings,” there only to develop the Union’s potential talent.

While it’s true that the Islanders are the de facto minor league side in this relationship, it isn’t a traditional minor league system, like those in Major League Baseball or the NHL. The Islanders are far more autonomous than, say, the Hershey Bears. At the same time, the Islanders’ ultimate goal of winning a USL title always has the chance of running them in direct conflict with the long term goals of John Hackworth and the Union’s coaching staff.

The center back situation is a prime example. On the one hand, we have Ethan White. I don’t doubt his potential or that he just needs more playing time to get to an MLS level. He played decently for the Union during their preseason, so we know what kind of output we can expect on a good day.

The problem is that he’s the third best healthy CB on the Islanders roster right now.

The man ahead of him in the depth chart shows another important issue. Pedro Ribeiro has formed a fast partnership with Richie Marquez, and both have either made it onto the USL team of the week or received an honorable mention. Were this a normal team, the decision here would be easy: Start Ribeiro. But with Harrisburg’s other goal of developing talent for the Union would dictate that Ribeiro starts in the midfield, with White taking his place on the back line. He would either be replacing Ekra, or the Islanders would have to radically alter their 4-3-3 to accommodate this change. Trying to fit as many Union loanees as possible in the starting lineup would require a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, and then the Islanders would be pivoting away from what’s worked for them down the wings in their current formation.

Formation issues aside, there’s another problem Union fans calling for change in Harrisburg need to consider: Running a USL side like Harrisburg like a normal professional team creates the most competitive environment. If Ethan White cannot get past Ribeiro in the depth chart, how is he going to push his Union teammates to compete if he’s eventually called up to the MLS? If Ribeiro has shown best as a center back, center back is probably where he’ll play at the MLS level. Players competing for spots is the best way for them to develop in training. Players will either respond well to the competition, or they won’t. Responding well to pressure is important for any professional athlete, and it’s something the Union’s prospects have to demonstrate at this level before they can make the jump up to Philadelphia.

Union on Loan

Richie Marquez and Ethan White had a rough day. While White was more at fault for the first two goals, both were caught completely flat-footed on the third.

Either way, it’s clear that they don’t have the same kind of sense about how the other plays as Marquez shares with Ribeiro. The main issue with starting both White and Marquez is that you lose the distribution ability Ribeiro has. Both are decent enough passers, and both could have success starting next to someone like Ribeiro (or Amobi Okugo, for the MLS side). However, the ability to turn possession on the back line into quick attacking chances has been a vital part of Harrisburg’s game plan all season, and it’s something they’re missing when Ribeiro’s not on the field.

The bigger issue for White from this performance is how much he’s potentially hurt his chance of getting time with the Union. One game isn’t representative of a players’ entire career, but if this is how he handles his first chance of the season to get playing time, it doesn’t reflect well on him.

Pedro Ribeiro and Christhian Hernandez were both out, due to injury.

Jimmy McLaughlin came on as a late sub. While initially he seemed to provide a spark going forward, there wasn’t much one person could have done. Not his best performance coming off the bench, but given the circumstances you would be asking a lot of him to turn this game around.

Upcoming Games
  • Saturday, May 10th vs Phoenix (7pm, tickets)
  • Saturday, May 17 vs Dayton (2pm, tickets)
  • Saturday, May 31 vs Richmond (7pm, tickets)

You can watch the full Harrisburg-Charleston game below.

2 Comments

  1. Pat, thank you for this article. I hear what you are saying about Ribeiro at CB. I get it.
    .
    Having watched him a few times at CB, his distribution is very good, but defending is clearly not his strength. He’s had a few “Wheeler” moments in each game, but did not always get burned with a tally.
    .
    And yes, I understand filling needs due to injury. But from this fan’s point of view, it is short-term thinking to play someone in a position where they have to work on their weakness to become ACCEPTABLE when they could be working on existing strengths to become GREAT.
    .
    Where is Marcus Buckingham when you need him?

  2. Ribeiro to CB is not the answer for anyone. If the Islanders need a short term CB, send Wheeler. White was absolutely awful in that game. Sometimes you get one shot at a professional career, White blew it.

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