With Chivas USA in the midst of preseason preparation, we have decided to hold a weekly roundtable discussion. This week, we begin with some of the nuts and bolts of what might happen on the field, but stay tuned each week - we hope to have new participants and a variety of topics before First Kick. Today, we begin with myself, and regular site contributors Rachna Kapur and Matthew Hoffman.
Alicia Rodriguez: So, here's the question to get us started: Which formation(s) do you think Chivas USA will use this year?
Rachna Kapur: Well, we've seen weird things like a 3-5-2 in preseason so far. I would hope we don't stick with that, as I'm not sure it would hold up week in/week out. A 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 would be more viable to me. If I remember correctly, Chelis had mentioned a 4-3-3 on twitter a few weeks ago, and would probably fit the mold of the more offensive style he wants to play. I like this formation for a couple of reasons. The first being that it would most likely utilize Juan Agudelo and Bowen on the wings. Tristan Bowen has proven to be a great offensive threat down the flanks, and I am really hoping we see him there. Agudelo, while not the greatest winger, is willing to play down the left and roam in and out to bolster the offense.
If a 4-2-3-1 were employed, I could see Chelis employing wing backs that would roam forward more (like what we've seen happening in preseason so far, or what we've seen Jorge Villafana do a bit). Either way, I don't expect a highly defensive style at all this season.
Matthew Hoffman: I admit to being intrigued by the notion of the three-man backline. With the four-man backline being de rigueur for MLS, it's delightful to see Chelis yet again take a stab at the MLS establishment.
However if the team is going to be pressing up high, it's hard to see the team having success with three at the back. Especially in a league referred to as a counter-attacking league. When March 2nd comes around, I think it's far more likely Chelis will go with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. I really liked the pairing of Oswaldo Minda and Ben Zemanski as holding midfielders last year.
I'm curious to know how often Chelis will be shuffling lineups and formations. Historically, Chelis seems content to shuffle between tactics like Pearl Jam goes through drummers. At Estudiantes Tecos, Chelis used five different formations. Very seldom did he use the same formation in consecutive games and he never used the same lineup when facing a team for a second time.
Alicia: I'm also intrigued by defense anchored by three center backs. Leagues around the world have reintroduced that system the past few years, and it often leads to much more attacking soccer - something Chivas USA desperately needs after their 2012 version. And MLS is known for being slow to advance in tactical innovations - for example, the 4-3-3 really only came to recent prominence a couple years ago with Kansas City, while it had been standard for upwards of a decade on many teams in South America.
But, I think you are both right to point out the risks inherent with a three-man backline. If you have the right center backs and wingbacks, the system can work great, but if you don't, you can get torched. And given the MLS experience of the defenders around the team at the moment, it's unclear if they will be ready for MLS attacks, speedy, physical, and technical alike.
So is the main concern when it comes to the formation this preseason defense? And what do you think Chelís will do differently from Robin Fraser as far as tactics and formations?
Matthew: The opposite actually! I literally just finished reading the article on Miller Bolanos on the Chivas site where he claims he played out of position last year--the writer did not follow up and say what Bolaños actually feels is his position but I'm going to guess he meant up top as a striker.
I really think this team is so much better in all aspects of the game when they play with a second striker. I don't think the skills required in a solitary striker are there for any of the guys. Jose Correa and Agudelo are both tall and head the ball well while Bolaños and Bowen can make the dangerous runs into the box.
Going back to Bolaños's remark, I think Fraser was inflexible with players, young players in particular who he kept on a short leash. I get the impression that Chelis will change the formation every night if he has to if he can put his players in the right place to succeed.
Rachna: While I truly hope we don't see a different lineup every game (my biggest pet peeve from the past three seasons), I do think it will take some time to establish the right formula. I can see why this has bothered Chelis so far this preseason as well, with the injuries some of the key players have seen.
In terms of what we'll see differently from the last couple of seasons, I agree with Matt in that I think Chelis will be more flexible with players. By flexible, I think there will be a more fluid offensive system - maybe less emphasis on a specific formation or player placement on the field and more of a focus on moving the ball forward and getting the job done. I'm seeing a lot of overlapping runs here.
I do sincerely hope, however, that we see fast changes if his ideas don't work. That was one of my biggest problems with both Fraser and Vasquez. Certain formulas wouldn't work, yet lo and behold, we'd see the same thing on the field over and over. Sure, we're not seeing what they are in practice or the locker room, but if something isn't right on the field the night of the game when it matters most, changes must be made. I say this mostly because we don't know how that 3-man back line will work, and at this point, you've got to fear the most with that. Not only because we've never seen it in MLS, but also because this team hasn't been known for its defensive prowess the past few seasons. So I guess that gets back to what you said Alicia, in that defense is the biggest concern when it comes to the preseason formation.
Alicia: We'll pick this up in more depth in a future roundtable, but based on the personnel, the experience level, and the formation used so far, I think it is safe to say Chivas USA will score more - but they will give up a lot of goals, too. I don't think we'll see nearly as many 0-0 results as we have the past couple years, and that's not a bad thing, but I also hope we don't see any 6-2 losses. Will 3-3 be the new 0-0? We'll have to see, but Chivas USA can't afford to go backwards in their form. I think the defense will cause headaches, and may force a change in Chelís' plans, but if they can get their attack going and goals scoring on a regular basis, that should help the team turn the tide, at least partially.
What do you think? What formation will the team play? What should they play? Leave a comment below!