To say that the Dayton Dutch Lions got a late start to the preseason would be a gross understatement. The Dutch Lions officially began preseason camp with a training session on the morning of Saturday, March 30. The USL PRO regular season kicked off just three days later with a match between the Phoenix FC Wolves and the Los Angeles Blues, the same night that Dayton competed in its first preseason match. By the time the Dutch Lions finished their sixth and final preseason exhibition on April 16, 11 of the league’s 13 teams had already contested a combined total of 11 regular season games. Wilmington remained as the only other team not to open the season, but the Hammerheads’ first preseason competition was played 10 days prior to Dayton’s first practice.
The Dutch Lions had a lot to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time if the club wanted to avoid a repeat of the slow start to the 2012 season that was characterized by a lack of team chemistry and unfamiliarity with the Dutch style of soccer implemented in Dayton. Several talented players returned to the roster, but they have been joined by a number of new faces. Additionally, Patrick Bal, in his first year as head coach, has added a few tweaks to the system that has been run over the past couple of years.
The Dutch Lions managed to put together a 5-0-1 record against some quality collegiate competition. From the opponents I observed in person, I was particularly impressed by the Cedarville Yellow Jackets, who possessed a lot of team speed and were able to break down the Dutch Lions’ pressure. The scores and stats of each of the games are listed below
April 2: Dayton Dutch Lions 1-1 The Ohio State University
- Goals: Eddie Hertsenberg
April 4: Dayton Dutch Lions 2-1 Cedarville University
- Goals: Brandon Swartzendruber, Matt Griffin
- Assists: Irakli Khutsidze
April 7: Dayton Dutch Lions 3-1 Lincoln Memorial University
- Goals: Taylor Lord, Shintaro Harada, Brandon Swartzendruber
- Assists: Gibson Bardsley, Taylor Lord, Eric Kissinger
April 9: Dayton Dutch Lions 4-0 Rio Grande University
- Goals: Brandon Swartzendruber, Gibson Bardsley (PK), Joe Broekhuizen, Ryan Grothaus
- Assists: Kyle Knotek, Eli Garner, Nago MBengue
April 13: Dayton Dutch Lions 3-0 Forbes
- Goals: Eli Garner, Joe Broekhuizen, Shane Smith
- Assists: Shintaro Harada
April 16: Dayton Dutch Lions 3-1 University of Dayton
- Goals: Gibson Bardsley, Remco Klaasse (2)
It’s fine and dandy that the Dutch Lions managed to go undefeated in the preseason. What do the final scores of preseason friendlies really mean? Jack squat. In October, when Dayton fans, players, and staff look back on the highlights of the 2013 campaign, it will be a shame if the best they can recall is a pristine preseason record.
That being said, let’s switch focus to what matters. Regardless of the results, how did the team perform on the pitch? I’ll describe what I observed in the matches against Cedarville, Lincoln Memorial, and Forbes and do my best to let you know how I think that will translate into the USL PRO regular season.
Matt Williams and Wichert de Witt combined to yield four goals in the six preseason games. Both received ample time in the net, but neither were challenged very often in the games I observed. Williams has proven to be more than capable of excelling at his position in the league, and it will take something catastrophic for de Witt to see much playing time in the regular season. The Dutch Lions should feel more than comfortable with the production the team will get out of this position in the upcoming season.
The starting center backs from last year’s version of the Dutch Lions, Mettin Copier and Nixon Dias, will not be returning to the team. This leaves a gap in skill and experience that needs to be filled. It appears that Shintaro Harada, formerly of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, will be more than capable of stepping up to the challenge. I was impressed by the leadership that Harada displayed in the Cedarville match. After being with Dayton for only a couple of days, Harada stepped into the center back position and took control. He kept the defense organized and in shape against a formidable Yellow Jacket attack. The Dutch Lions will lean heavily on his leadership this season.
Shane Smith and Gregory Preciado started on the flanks of the back line last season, and both have returned to the Dutch Lions this year. Smith appears to be in good form and seems to be more comfortable and confident than he did at times in the 2012 season. He has displayed a willingness to get involved in the offense. He will be a serviceable mainstay at left back.
Preciado didn’t see much action in the preseason after entering camp with an injury. It’s difficult to imagine, though, that he won’t be in the starting lineup on a regular basis. The real question is whether he will be playing at right back or center back alongside Harada.
If Preciado is moved to center back, my odds on favorite to fill the slot at right back is Taylor Lord, who has demonstrated that he has the physical ability and skill set to get the job done. What Lord lacks in height, he makes up with quickness and strength. His ball handling and passing will keep him involved in the attack. He has displayed a tendency to be overaggressive on defense, which sometimes gets him beat in 1v1 situations. If he can remain disciplined, he will be a genuine asset to the club.
Joel DeLass and Kyle Knotek have displayed exactly what was expected out of them this preseason. DeLass, who returns as captain, facilitates transitions with his leadership and decision-making. Knotek scraps and works for every ball in his area.
Irakli Khutsidze, a new addition from the country of Georgia, is one of the biggest off-season acquisitions made by the Dutch Lions. Khutsidze has shown that he can move effortlessly with the ball at his feet. His vision and creativity have created numerous scoring chances for his teammates this preseason.
Gibson Bardsley and Eli Garner have proven to be talented wingers with speed and aggressive mindsets. They will be joined on the front line by center forward Brandon Swartzendruber, who led the Dutch Lions in goals scored in the preseason. Swartzendruber has shown that he can create space for himself and finish scoring chances. Opposition will be forced to pay attention to him in the middle of the field, which will generate more opportunities for Bardsley and Garner. The trio shouldn’t have problems lighting up the scoreboard this season.
Joe Broekhuizen, another newcomer to Dayton, has shown flashes of potential in the preseason and will be a good change of pace at center forward when Swartzendruber comes off the field. He has an enormous frame that should be an asset in the air and holding the ball for the attack to take shape. Unfortunately, there have been times this preseason when Broekhuizen has not demonstrated the knowledge of how to take advantage of his size. Unlike a lot of big men, Broekhuizen’s feet are not made of cement blocks. He has displayed an ability to create some space for himself and unleash a powerful left-footed strike.
What to Expect
With the players that are returning and the new additions, the Dutch Lions’ roster has more talent than it did last year. I honestly believe that the club has a legitimate shot at contending for a playoff spot. In a complete departure from last season, the strength of the team seems to be on the attack.
A lack of depth an experience may be a liability on the defensive side of the ball. There were several occasions during the preseason that defenders were caught out of shape. This left the goalkeeper helpless and hanging out to dry. Although the offense has improved, I don’t know if it is strong enough to overcome too many of these types of mistakes.
Look for the Dutch Lions to try to generate a lot of offense from high pressure, resulting in counter attacks. When it has worked in the preseason it has worked well. When it failed, which it did when the pressure wasn’t applied uniformly and came to late, it created 1v1 opportunities for the opposition. The success of the Dutch Lions’ season may hinge on the team’s ability to execute this aspect of the game.