Thinking About a Possible Starting XI

by Scotty Smith

 

With the signing of goalkeeper Scott Levene, Memphis 901 FC now has enough players to field a full squad. Though there is little chance of nailing this starting XI, it is still fun to speculate what the team might look like as it emerges from the tunnel March 9 at Auto Zone Park. Though we do not yet know what formation coach Tim Mulqueen plans to employ, he hinted on our podcast that he’s not opposed to a 4-3-3 attack with the flexibility to defend in a 4-5-1. He wants to be on the attack, and he will align his new toys accordingly. As such, we will use that formation here.

 

GOALKEEPER – LEVENE

 

This part is easy; there is only one goalkeeper on the roster. However, a simple YouTube search gives us plenty of reason for excitement. Levene played at the University of Connecticut, where his career was storied enough to warrant one feature on local TV and another on the American Athletic Conference show. He started 70 consecutive matches between the pipes at UCONN, breaking the school record previously held by Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake. He registered 31 shutouts at UCONN, and had a career goals-against average of less than one goal per match (0.78). He signed with Red Bull Reserves after his college career, and he played in four USL matches in the 2018 season. The kid has a lot of potential.

 

DEFENDERS – BENNETT, HODGE, MORTON, CHARPIE

 

Position flex is a big part of this roster. There are defenders who have played in midfield, midfielders who have played as forwards, center backs who have played as fullbacks, midfielders who have played as defenders, and forwards who have played on the wing. This bodes well, as the building of a new squad will require some experimentation. For the most part, however, we are sticking with the club’s roster listings.

 

Louis Bennett II has played in the midfield, but the fact that he is listed as a defender is a good indication of Mulch’s plans for him. Bennett has shown that he can shoot from distance, and he scored some beautiful long-range goals in his time at Marquette. It would be great to see Bennett shoot and score from long range at Auto Zone Park. Bennett has also shown prowess crossing from the left and hitting the long ball, so left back seems like a pretty good fit for the son of the former Memphis Rogues player.

 

Wes Charpie told the pod that he prefers right back, and he loves getting down the right side and into the attack. He played primarily at right back for St. Louis FC, Jacksonville Armada, and the University of South Florida. It would be a bit of a shock to see him play elsewhere, as right back seems to be his natural position.

 

Triston Hodge is a center back with a big left foot, according to those who watched him play for T&T. Though he could potentially play as a left fullback for 901FC, he has primarily played in a central role. We will slot him in as the left center back. The best thing about Hodge on tape is his slide tackling. I’m sure higher-level coaches will say his best quality is “positional awareness” or something relating to the organization of defense shape, but fans love a good slide tackle.

 

Josh Morton is the tallest of the defenders, and he told our podcast that he’d always prefer to play center back. He played mostly left center back at Tulsa, but Hodge’s left foot moves Morton to the right in this scenario. Defensively, Morton led Tulsa in tackles and the all-important “duals won.” He has proven that he can score from the position, as he scored on set pieces for Tulsa last season. He even scored the first goal in Auto Zone Park history, so here’s to hoping he can use his 6’2” frame to replicate that in 2019.

 

NOTE: Todd Pratzner has USL experience playing in a central role for both the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Rochester Rhinos. He played center back for Pittsburgh last season, and he anchored the Xavier University backline in college. He could easily win a spot at center back, and the only reason I did not start him is because the other two signed first. Competition is a big part of the daily practice regiment, and Pratzner will have every opportunity to crack the lineup on March 9.

 

MIDFIELDERS – METZGER, GRANDISON, PAUL

 

Coach Mulch said on our show that he wants to build through the spine, and there is no question that he has done just that. The team is stocked with defensive midfield players who can also get forward and score. It would not be surprising to see him rely on overlapping fullbacks to provide width, while using the midfielders to control the spine with short passes and coverage for the defenders.

 

Dan Metzger was a big signing for the club, and the front office folks have mentioned his name several times when local media types ask about the team. He has played some on the left, most notably when he entered for the national team against the Mexico U-23s. He typically wears jersey 8, however, and the number 8 seems to be a positional match as well. He was part of a double pivot for Red Bull Reserves, and it is a spot where he seems quite comfortable. In this offense, he would be one of three mids – most likely the one cheating slightly to the left. (Note: Metzger is one of at least three players with New York Red Bull experience. That is not surprising, seeing as to where Mulch and Tim Howard both got their professional starts in that organization.)

 

When you see the words “Leston Paul” on the internet, they are almost always followed by the words “central midfielder.” Paul is a natural DM, and it seems he enjoys covering a lot of ground. But he also scored 8 goals and had 8 assists in college, so he can attack as well. He could be the 6 in a double pivot, or he could play in a slightly right position, which is where we have him here. He has captained the T&T youth squads at multiple levels, making him a candidate for the armband.

 

Ewan Grandison is always much further back than his number 9 Jamaica jersey would indicate (I know, I know…jerseys corresponding to positions died out ages ago). Grandison seems most comfortable playing right in front of the center backs, providing coverage and distributing passes from a deep position. He has also been known to score “clean-up” goals, advancing straight down the spine from the back and charging into the box for a shot.

 

FORWARDS – GONZALEZ, MUCKETTE, THE HOTTEST FOOT

 

It is a bit of a misnomer to call Raul Gonzalez a forward, but he’s a guy whose skill set would work well on the outside slots of a 4-3-3. In his time with the University of Memphis, Gonzalez attacked the goal from the outside in. He was forever dancing down the line with highlight-reel footwork, making defenders miss and charging toward the goal. Though that occasionally happened from the right, it most often happened from the left. Gonzalez was fun to watch in college, and it makes sense that he should be using his quickness and touch to advance the attack for the Kings of Neon. The left forward spot makes the most sense in this formation. Gonzalez captained the U of M the last time he was here in the city, so he’s shown solid leadership skills.

 

Duane Muckette is listed as a forward, but he looks more like a number 10 on film. However, since this is a 4-3-3, we will play him on the right and let him do his thing. Muckette, like Gonzalez, is fun to watch on film. His ball skills are special. His passing is special. If this squad decides to play a 10, Muckette is a great candidate. Muckette is another player who has worn the armband, and he is not afraid of taking the last shot in a penalty shoot-out. His 2018 tape for Central FC was outstanding. If the tape is telling the truth, this guy could be a fan favorite in Memphis.

 

The lone striker role is one that is predicated on form. Coach Mulch could simply go with the guy who is banging in goals in practice. On the other hand, he could use a bit of strategy based on the type of player he has at his disposal. Heviel Cordoves has scored a lot of goals in USL. He is a bigger-bodied guy (6’2,” 194) and could be a traditional target striker. Luca Uccello is considerably smaller (5’6,” 152), but he is the quick, elusive type player that tired defenses hate to see entering the game. As such, we could see Cordoves for the first hour or so, followed by a fresh-legged Uccello in the last half hour. That might just make tired defenders cuss out loud.

 

NOTE: THIS IS FUN

 

Speculation of this kind is great for one reason; it is fun. Watching YouTube videos of our players stokes the fire and brings about a real excitement for the inaugural season in our club’s history. Also, if you have spent much time on #SoccerTwitter, you undoubtedly already know that there is always someone out there who knows more than you do. We’d love to hear from those people. If you have more info on any of these players, please share. We will support them in any way we can as they #DefendMemphis.

(photo credit: Central FC)

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