CARSON, CA - AUGUST 12: Fraser has some decisions to make in the coming weeks if Chivas are to remain in the playoff hunt. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images)
If you are a fan of tactics in soccer, you know that innovation takes place every generation or so. Once a style becomes predominant, coaches sometimes turn to new formations and styles of play in order to gain an advantage on opponents. Although formations are not uniform around the world, until recently, a basic 4-4-2 formation dominated in MLS. Recently, however, coaches like Peter Vermes and his vaunted 4-3-3 with Sporting Kansas City has encouraged plenty of other teams to follow suit, and even a coach as tradition-minded as Houston's Dominic Kinnear has adopted a 4-3-3 this season. If a team has a strong defense and a plethora of attacking options, especially if that team has good wingers and attacking full backs, a 4-3-3 is a formation that leads to an open and often exciting match.
If you have watched Chivas USA with any regularity this season, you'll notice that Chivas formation has changed from week to week. From the ultra-defensive 4-5-1, which helped start the season on a terrible note, to a modified 4-1-4-1, which attempted to take advantage of the various midfielders on the roster, to a 4-3-3, which has paid off in some games, Robin Fraser hasn't been afraid to make adjustments. Recently, he seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1, which has been more or less useful in putting out two defensive midfielders, a strength on the roster.
But why not a 4-4-2? It may feel somewhat outdated, but maybe it should be given another chance for the Goats.The biggest reason I think Chivas ought to go back to a 4-4-2, at least to experiment for several matches, is because of the scoring problems this season. While I've given up hope that Chivas will score goals with any consistency in 2012, I do believe the team does have the talent to score on a consistent basis. Juan Pablo Angel can still contribute, although the end of his career appears near. But Juan Agudelo is a U.S. international, and has shown moments of brilliance of his seven league matches with Chivas. I think Jose Correa is as equally talented as Agudelo, and if both players can live up to their potential, Chivas should be in great shape. Plus, Casey Townsend and Cesar Romero, although more raw, also have potential to become decent scorers in MLS.
The problem is that none of Chivas' strikers appear able to really lead the line as lone strikers. Although theoretically the three midfielders/wingers/withdrawn strikers have the ability to move up and support the lone strikers, the reality is that the lead striker is almost always marooned up top without any support, which basically neutralizes him from the game. The solution for the lone strikers has been to either wait for support that seldom, if ever, comes, or to drop back and try and get the ball in the midfield. Needless to say, the single striker formation isn't working. Instead, Agudelo, Romero and Townsend have been pushed back to the withdrawn three, which hasn't really worked for anybody except perhaps Romero.
Why not put two strikers up top? With two players to play off each other, it can pull the defense apart and hopefully create space and scoring chances for the forwards as well as the rest of the lineup.
Although this formation means that there would only be four midfielders on the field, there are multiple options for how to deploy the middle. They could play as a flat midfield, with or without strong wingers (Ryan Smith and Miller Bolanos have played very well on the wing this season, so that option is certainly possible). They could also play in a diamond formation, although it would be better if Chivas had an attacking playmaker or scorer to play at the top of the diamond.
In the middle, there is a variety of options with attack-minded and defense-minded central midfielders, from Oswaldo Minda and Shalrie Joseph, to Nick LaBrocca, Ben Zemanski, Peter Vagenas, and Paolo Cardozo. Alejandro Moreno and Cesar Romero have both been able to play both in midfield and at forward this season. But just because there are a lot of options doesn't mean they should all play at once. Minda seems to be a lock provided he is healthy and not suspended, but the other central midfield position should be up for grabs until somebody takes it as his own.
Finally, the 4-4-2 doesn't change the strength of Chivas' team, which is the defense and goalkeeping. Although it isn't perfect, the team has perhaps the best goalkeeper in the league in Dan Kennedy, and the defensive corps is pretty good. So there is little need to make any tactical changes on that front.
In the end, the recommendation to go for a 4-4-2 is to try and simplify Chivas' style. Again, it won't win Fraser any coaching awards, but seeing as the team are not playing inspired soccer as it is and they need a jolt, why not pare down the formation and try the good old 4-4-2? If the defense can get back to keeping their opponents from scoring and the forwards can finally start scoring with any consistency, then the retrograde formation will pay dividends. This is a crucial stretch for Chivas, and they need to pick up points any way they can. Maybe another tactical shift will make a positive difference.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!