Bruce Arena hasn't been one to switch up his formation all that often, so his current streak of two weeks with a diamond in the midfield has become front page news. Is the midfield really a fixture now in Los Angeles? What does this mean for the LA Galaxy attack going forward?
The modern midfield diamond came out of Argentina, where its been the country's classic formation since the 1966 World Cup. It's from Argentina that we get our only name for the midfielders on the side of the diamond: the carrileros. Their role is to shuttle up and down on either side of the ventilador (also falso puntero, the attacking midfielder). The diamond doesn't have the midfield hold of the 4-4-2, and is more the transition from defense to attack.
Width in the formation comes from the fullbacks, as the formation isn't as concerned with having wingers that hug the touchline (Hector Jimenez being an example of that sort of wide midfielder). Not every diamond will have a designated attacking midfield and defensive midfielder, but at least one of those roles will be clearly defined.
When Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid (a soccer tactics bible), wrote on the diamond for the Guardian he called it a bit of a stop gap formation. It comes up when a manager or coach has a specific player that doesn't quite fit but it too talented to be left out. Milan as a recent example went to the diamond to feature Andrea Pirlo, but abandoned it after three years.
In two matches with the diamond, the Galaxy have put Landon Donovan and Stefan Ishizaki at the point. In both cases, Juninho was the midfielder playing back. With Sarvas and Husidic pinching in more centrally, the formation focuses on linking together passing sequences and less on crosses and plays across the box.
"We have more possession the ball," said Robbie Keane, "if you look at the players that we have in there, they're certainly not wide players, but technically they're very, very good. As I said before, when you keep that ball and you make the opposition run more than you do, ultimately they're going to get tired, and that was certainly the case."
Real Salt Lake are the MLS side that has stuck with the diamond more than any, and certainly it has worked out for them producing repeated success. The anchor for them is defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who not only can be a defensive stopper but is a habitual attacking contributor. It's the type of play the Galaxy will need from Juninho for the Galaxy version of the diamond.
"Then when you have extra bodies in the center of the park with myself and Landon running off at times making it even more [packed], I think they found it difficult to deal with."
Think about the season opener with RSL, when the Galaxy hit a wall and the well conditioned visitors went up a gear. On their goal there were those levels with Beckerman, Alavaro Saborio, and Joao Plata. LA defensive resposibilities were terribly confused. The change could mean a third attacker in the attack and less of Donovan-Keane on an island as often happened last season.
Of course it's easy to praise a formation which worked well against Chivas USA, but there must be drawbacks otherwise it wouldn't so often be abandoned within a season or two. If the Galaxy were too dependent on one mode of attack last season, the diamond isn't going to help. Playing through one creative source brings with it the danger that a single stream is too easily damned.
When the Galaxy had enough of a lead to open Chivas up they were able to put together some incredible passte sequences, but the two first half goals were both scored from the touchline. Walking in the ball is the oldest of soccer schools, not beautiful playmaking from an attacking point. RSL's diamond and personnel has been a consistent winner, but when their attack is dammed it's on Nick Rimando to keep them in the match.
The flaw in the diamond is the flaw that's been thrown at LA for years now, a lack of width. Teams that go with a 4-5-1, and teams that are capable of shifting the match from the center to the flanks are going to have an advantage. This match report for an RSL loss to Seattle late in 2013 when they were trying to hold onto first place uses the words flank and cross in describing both Seattle goals.
Still, Arena has it right that a formation changes to benefit the eleven you have to put out on the pitch and not the other way around. Having the diamond as a weapon in your pocket, to be pulled out in the situations when its warranted, will help further LA's cause this season.