SANDY, UT - MAY 7: Elliott: Decent in 2011, but not a player for the future (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Chivas USA are currently in their fourth week of preseason training, and with matches punctuating the conditioning and coaching sessions, we're starting to get a peek at who might get the first team reps during the regular season. Although competition is present all over the field, with the possible exception of starting forward and starting goalkeeper, the area where Chivas seems to have the most depth is unquestionably the midfield. The Goats look like they are getting positioned to be two deep on the wings (with Ryan Smith, Laurent Courtois and possibly one or both of Michael Lahoud and Jorge Villafana) and Nick LaBrocca, Miller Bolanos and Blair Gavin will probably duke it out for time in the central attacking role. There are also supplemental draftees and trialists (like Kennedy Chongo and Kevin Venegas) who are also in the overall mix in the midfield and trying to make the team. Needless to say, a great deal is taking place in the midfield.
But a crucial role that bears a bit more scrutiny comes from the defensive midfielder position. Although it is a position that seldom gets the plaudits and does the dirty work for the more glamorous attacking players, it is a very important role. This is certainly true in MLS.Think of the top teams in the league. Osvaldo Alonso for the Seattle Sounders, Kyle Beckerman for Real Salt Lake, Juninho for the LA Galaxy, and Daniel Hernandez for FC Dallas. Do you notice a trend? All four of these guys are absolutely critical to their teams, are good at their job, and are usually the most hated player by opponents on their team. This isn't a coincidence.
For Chivas, changes are coming to this important position in 2012. For most of last year, Simon Elliott played the position, and used the role to provide leadership and deep distribution up the field. It made a certain amount of sense, since he is a good passer and took the on-field marshal role seriously. But he was often deficient at the defensive side of the position, and giveaways and poor clearances on his part too often led to goals for the opposition. While he did a decent job last year, it was clear his skill and advancing age meant the team was likely to go in a different direction.
Enter the options for 2012. So far in the preseason, Robin Fraser has frequently used a 4-2-3-1 formation. It has been said he is testing the formation, and trying to figure out if this will be the prevalent system in 2012. Last season, Fraser used a 4-4-2 for most of the season, but also used a 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 at times. As with any formation, there are benefits and potential drawbacks to the 4-2-3-1 formation. The biggest benefit is that the defense would have major cover with two defensive midfielders linking between the backline and attackers. Since Chivas' defense had major flaws in 2011, concern for that side of the game makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, the pressure put on the remaining four attacking players to bear the brunt of the offensive load is a tall task. In particular, Juan Pablo Angel would presumably be the lone striker, and while he's shown he can lead the line, if he has an off game that can destroy the offensive momentum altogether. Also, taking an attacker out of the mix means the opposition will most likely have an advantage in numbers in their end, which could neutralize attacking chances.
We will most likely have to see if the personnel fits the formation in the regular season and if the positives outweigh the negatives before properly judging this move.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the options for Chivas at defensive midfielder. It could be key to their prospects in 2012.
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