Oh, hello! Didn't see you there. Are you reading this because you enjoy MLS Cups? Are you reading this because you love #tacticalanalyis with a capital #? Fantastic, because this weekend there happens to be an MLS Cup (I believe the New England Revolution are playing the LA Galaxy, but I'll have to check) and this article happens to contain tactical analysis. What are the odds? Let's dive in!
I'd like to be clear from the start that the New England Revolution are at a huge tactical disadvantage in this game. Why? Take a look at their shape against the New York Red Bulls.
In essence it's a fluid 4-2-3-1 revolving around Lee Nguyen who plays as a central attacking midfielder. On his right is former forward, Teal Bunbury, who plays more as a right attacking midfielder than an out and out winger. This means he cuts inside quite often and his background as a forward helps him transition into that role at select times on select runs. In front of Nguyen is Charlie Davies, who has been playing fantastic soccer of late.
Known mostly for his speed, Davies' true danger in this offense has more to do with his movement. Davies is constantly looking for seams and plays well in combination with Nguyen and Bunbury. To Nguyen's left is a revolving door of attacking talent. Fagundez, Rowe, Kobayashi, and in all honesty, regardless of who steps in, the tactical points I am about to make remain unchanged.
The Galaxy will either have a numbers advantage when attacking, or New England's attack will be starved of supply. Jermaine Jones often gets lumped into the role of a CDM, but that is doing him a great disservice. What is often overlooked is Jones' prowess as a deep lying distributor. Here is how they look moving forward.
I know that's a lot of arrows, but New England is a very fluid team. They run on interchange. Backing it all up is Jermaine Jones. Much like Beckerman's job in RSL's diamond, Jones sits back and distributes. He keeps the ball circulating and allows all that movement to happen. Unlike the RSL diamond, New England's wide players are far more fixed in advanced positions. They do not get back and defend. The compensation for this is Scott Caldwell, who is almost purely a destroyer, but if you're good at math you'll know that one is less than two. Adding one CDM to compensate for the advanced positioning of two outside players, still leaves you with one less defender.
The Revolution often try to defend with 6 men. The Galaxy attack with 7. Someone will always be open. This will have a huge impact on the two way nature of Jones, as it will force him to play the majority of the time trying to win the ball from Sarvas in the attacking third.
As the Galaxy overload the left side Caldwell will be naturally pulled that way as well, meaning Jones may find himself isolated against both Sarvas and Juninho a lot in this this game. A lot of it will have to depend on Soares and Caldwell's ability to hand off marks. When you give Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan a numbers advantage, you can only do so much. Consider the following.
Keane drifts into the left side of the midfield. At some point his mark has to be transitioned from Soares to Caldwell or Farrell. If Rogers is keeping Farrell busy, that leaves only Caldwell. But now who is marking Donovan? If Soares can get to him, that would be ideal, but it's possible Keane pulled him too far out of position in that movement. Even if Soares can get to Donovan, who then is marking Juninho? It's not Caldwell. He's on Keane. Essentially, Jones is now isolated against Juninho and Sarvas. As the Galaxy circulate the ball and the Revolution shift accordingly, who the unmarked Galaxy player is will constantly shift, however, with Keane and Donovan pulling the strings, it's almost open season for the Galaxy attack.
The solution for the Revolution is simple, but it completely ruins their attacking shape. Have their wide attacking mids sit back more. If this happens, New England can not play their brand of soccer. They will have to sit back and try to hit LA on the counter. If Jones tries to venture forward during these attacks, giving them the ability to reset the attack by playing it back to him and thus giving them a bit of rhythm and time to work their final third movement, he will do so at his peril because the second that ball is given up, LA has an even larger numbers advantage if they can transition quickly.
In many ways, New England is damned if they do and damned if they don't, which is why all the smart money is on LA to win their fifth MLS cup. Then again, soccer is a weird game, and all sorts of crazy stuff can happen, so you better tune in anyway.