Photo Credit: @theprojectfc
The Deltas’ inaugural season at the midway point has been one of some very strong highs and some very gut wrenching lows. Both on and off the field, the Deltas have had some very bright positives, yet some lingering concerns.
The Deltas finished the Spring season with a chance at the NASL Spring championship with just 2 games left to go. Unfortunately for them, they played against the best team in the league, Miami FC. Needing to win both matches, the Deltas got hit with a 7-0 thumping at the hands of the Spring title winners, Miami. This was coming off of the Deltas best run of the season, after winning 4 games in a row, including 6 games in which they were unbeaten. This was also their first road loss. While the 7-0 loss was ugly, 8 road games with just 1 loss is a good return.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Dos Santos has lived up to every expectation that could have possibly been placed on him and more. The fact that the Deltas were able to have a shot at the Spring championship as an expansion side shows just how good Dos Santos is at building a new roster from scratch. Besides 3 exceptions, including the 7-0 loss to Miami, the Deltas never conceded more than 2 goals and were tactically very difficult to break down. Within just a few months, the Marc Dos Santos’ master class in defensive shape has already been integrated into his squad. At this point it wouldn’t be a surprise if we saw Dos Santos in his third consecutive championship game and collecting another NASL Coach of the Year award at seasons end.
How they’ve set up so far
For the most part this season, we have seen the Deltas set up in a classic Marc Dos Santos’ 4-3-3 that plays like 4-1-4-1. However, we have also seen them play a 4-4-2 and pick up consecutive road victories at North Carolina and Edmonton, before the 4-4-2 cost them a 3-0 loss to Jacksonville at home. We also saw a 3-5-2 deployed for the first time in the Spring finale 3-1 loss to Miami. The 3 at the back was implemented more due to missing pieces from injury and suspension than a true tactical switch.
Differences From My Preseason Predictions for First Choice 11
Gibson has begun to take over a more consistent roll in the center of the Deltas’ midfield. With his great defensive qualities and ability to read the game, he is an ideal midfileder in a Marc Dos Santos’ set up. Gibson has been used in more of a number 8 box-to-box midfield role in front of Cristian Portilla and is expected to help get forward and create chances.
The on-loan midfielder has become an important piece to the small attacking threat that the Deltas do have. He has played a role as almost a second striker, cutting in off of the left side of midfield, and has been deployed as a true second striker as well in both the 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 set ups. Dyego contributed the game winning goal in the Club’s first-ever victory in the second match of the season vs. North Carolina.
While Jackson was in my initial starting 11 preseason, he is being deployed as a right wing-back instead of as an attacking midfield player. He was the player I felt would create the most chances for the Club. While he has contributed plenty offensively, it is not as much as if he were in midfield.
While Stephens is no longer part of the main midfield trio, he still is one of Dos Santos’ most important players due to his ability to play in multiple positions. Depending on the situation or match, Dos Santos has used Stephens as a direct replacement for both Gibson and Bekker, or as a winger on nights when the Deltas were trying to go more defensive or shut down a game. He is a valuable player off the bench for the Deltas because he can come in for just about any midfielder depending on the situation and score.
Ouimette is the player who has probably fallen most out of favor for the Deltas from the start of the season to now. He began the season as the right back, but his more natural position is center back. He never really looked comfortable at right back, and ultimately, Jackson was made the first-choice right back. Ouimette also hasn’t been used in the center back spot as a replacement for Attakora or Ferreira, but he did see the field in the final Spring match when the Deltas went to 3 at the back.
Best Options Off the Bench So Far
Lubahn has been one of Dos Santos’ top options off the bench on the left side. Primarily a left back, Lubahn has played a key role in shutting down games in a defensive left wing role as well as making key crosses and runs offensively.
Burke has been the Deltas’ first-choice center back option off the bench. He is usually the one to come in to replace either of the two starting center backs.
Tissot is one of the Deltas’ two midseason acquisitions in their expansion season. He was signed by DC United this offseason before being released in order to sign with San Francisco. He was brought on as someone who could battle for a starting spot, but has made just one start thus far. His natural position is in between a left back and a left-winger, making him someone who does not naturally fit into a Marc Dos Santos’ system. In the Spring finale, he was deployed as a left wing back in his lone League start, when San Francisco went to 3 at the back.
Sandoval is right on the heels of Heinemann for the starting forward spot. He has been highly effective when chosen to start, as well as off the bench. He is often the man brought on late as a second striker when the Deltas are behind, or in a direct replacement for Heinemann when the Deltas look to close a lead out.
The combination of Portilla and Bekker in the Deltas’ central midfield is as good as any in the League. The two have arguably been the best outfield players for the Deltas so far this season. Bekker, who plays the #10 role for the Deltas, won the NASL Player of the Week award in both weeks 1 and 12. In week 12 he scored 2 spectacular goals against Puerto Rico, and is currently the team’s 2nd leading scorer with 3 goals. As well, he is the right-footed set-piece man for the Deltas. Portilla, who play’s the #6 roll for San Francisco, won the Player of the Week award in week 7, and the Play of the Month award in June for his goal directly from the corner kick against the Indy 11. He is the team’s leading assist man with 3, but could have so many more as his left foot is the most dangerous threat the Deltas have on set pieces. Portilla had also played every minute of every match before he was rested in the Spring finale.
The Deltas’ defensive shape, excluding a couple of games, has been phenomenal throughout the season. Their goals against record is 3rd in the League despite conceding 10 goals in the last two games. Prior to that the team had conceded just 10 goals in 14 games, a very impressive record. Every player on the squad knows their role and how to get the job done on the defensive side of the ball.
Peiser has single handily won the Deltas points on multiple occasions. The 2015 NASL Golden Glove winner has been in similar form this season. His one-on-one shot stopping ability is very good as well as his ability to shut down attacker’s angles. When the Deltas concede, it is very rarely off of a mistake from their standout keeper. He is the co-leader keeper in the NASL so far this season with 7 clean sheets.
The Deltas have struggled to score goals this season. Despite being a 2nd place team, they have scored just 17 goals in 16 games. This is fewer goals than every other team in the League, except for Edmonton, and including the last place team, Puerto Rico FC. Excluding 5 goals from starting forward Tommy Heinemann, an ok return for a starting striker, and 3 goals from Bekker, the Deltas have just 9 goals from the entire rest of the team. No other player on the team has registered more than 2 goals other than Bekker and Heinemann.
Losing Saalih Muhammad the Week of the Opener
The loss of Richmond California’s Saalih Muhammad really hurt the Deltas both on and off the field, but for the most part off the field. Going into the season, the Deltas made Saalih the face of the team as he was the only player to come through the local tryout. His impact was evident in the final preseason match as he received the loudest ovation when he came on the field. Unfortunately, he tore his achilles tendon in training the following week, and will miss the entire season. While he was a young raw player, the excitement of seeing a local kid on the field was immense, and it was clear that he was going to be the first fan favorite. His presence is hugely important in tying the Deltas to the local community, and hopefully, he will make an impact for the Deltas next year and beyond.
Attendance and Atmosphere
Outside of the season opener as well as a few other moments, the atmosphere inside Kezar has been fairly dull. The lowest attendance numbers in the League don’t help with that, but even still the atmosphere just isn’t there. The only excitement of any kind comes when the Deltas have an attacking opportunity, but it is all but gone following the chance. With the way in which the Deltas play, few chances are created for both sides and this keeps the crowd quiet for long stretches of the game. The average home attendance has been just 2,419 in the Spring season.
Biggest Surprise So Far
My biggest surprise to this point was that the Deltas had any kind of a shot at the Spring season title. Before the season started I thought a playoff spot would be a huge achievement and that anything more would be overachieving. The chance at a trophy just 16 matches into the inaugural season was more than I could have ever predicted.
What to Expect From Dagoberto
The Deltas also added Brazilian League legend, Dagoberto Pelentier, a few weeks before the end of the Spring season. While at 34 he is one of the older players, Dagoberto is a super high caliber footballer for the Deltas to have signed. He will offer something different than the other forward options as he is more of a ball-at-his-feet style striker than the Deltas other two forwards, and he prefers to take players on one-on-one instead of in the air. Dagoberto is best with another striker in front of him, and will potentially work very will in tandem underneath Heinemann or Sandoval.
The fight for a playoff spot is definitely still on for the Deltas. While they are in 2nd place overall, they are just 5 points above the playoff line and 6 points above 6th place Indy. It will most likely be a 5 team fight for 3 playoff spots. I would expect the Deltas to find their way into that group of 3 if they are able to return to the form that saw them win 4 in a row. However, they will have to face Miami FC on 3 more occasions. So far, that match up hasn’t been kind to the Deltas.
As for individual stats and awards, I would guess that Heinemann will end the season as the team’s leading scorer with 9 or so goals, while Portilla will end the season as the leading assist man with somewhere around 7 assists. I also believe that Peiser will have a good shot at the Golden Glove award, as well as League Best 11. Both Bekker and Portilla could find themselves in the Best 11, and so could Captain Nana Attakora. Marc Dos Santos will also certainly be in the Coach of the Year discussion along side Nesta of Miami.
The short term on-the-field product has been very good for the Deltas, while the average attendance under 3,000 and the off-field product are very concerning for the long term health of this Club.