Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pro Teams in 2014: Impact

Impact is the biggest question mark among the Champions entering the new season. Without speculating on why they chose the direction they did--piecemeal pick up of mid-pack talent or untried youth--the more important question is what will be the result on the field for an Impact team used to being a perennial contender?
Before answering that question let's look at the pieces the team picked up. Raney Stanczak (most recently of Damage) and Ryan Martin (Topgun Union last season and the Ironmen the year before) are well established pro players who have both played for a number of different teams and bring with them a consistent versatile game. They are solid role players. Plug and play. Impact also picked up Nick Leival (former captain of 187 Crew) and perhaps the player with the most upside but also the player most difficult to quantify. Nick is a good player and being freed from his leadership role may allow his game to grow and really shine--but it's a gamble and Nick still has to discover how he fits in on a new team. The final piece of the Impact puzzle is Danny Park, who went from D2 to the Ironmen and has the least high level experience among the pick-ups. Park is a snake lead who is still rough around the edges. No longer surrounded by a young, hungry group learning together he will rise to the occasion or he won't--and the team is going to need him.
Impact plays a low risk methodical game OTB but aren't content to sit and wait a point out. Once in their primaries they want to push the leads but are willing to be patient. This doesn't mean the team lacks aggression but that they are more calculating about how and when to apply the aggressive push. Impact is more than capable of closing out a point in seconds given the right circumstances. But the one area where Impact sometimes broke down, even with a roster full of experienced top tier pros, was in pulling the attack trigger too soon and/or failing to maintain cross field communication which amounted to the same thing, overextended player(s) or unbalanced pressure.
So how will the new guys fit? All the players except Park fit the style requirement and will be comfortable playing the way Impact plays. In the past Park has been a single speed push the envelope hit or miss kind of player and either Impact will have to conform to his strengths or he will have to expand his game to be compatible with the rest of the team. The other principle struggle will come in deciding where best to utilize the skills of the other new pick-ups and in a curious way their versatility is problematic. The team has roles to fill and no clear cut beginning point. For example, are Stanczak and Martin significantly different from the Yachimec brothers--and if they aren't deciding who plays where when is gonna require some subtle distinctions. And if the majority of Impact's preseason practice is devoted to scrimmaging the team will be limited to a drawn out trial and error process for determining roles and player combinations and likely reps that will very likely leave the team uncertain in their decisions entering the first event.
Player for player they may have lost something but that isn't really the critical factor. Will the sum of all the parts equal a team as good as last season's team was? Even if the ultimate answer is yes odds are it's going to take time to find out how the new pieces fit in best. I can see it even being a season long struggle. I would also have concerns about the D-wire player combinations as this is where I think their losses will be most telling. I expect an uneven season with the team dropping out of the top four. And the key player this season will not be one of the pick-ups but will be Justin Cornell. As JC goes so will the team.

Next time, Vicious. Hint: incomplete 

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