Team Tactics

How the Quakes Dominated the Cali Classico... Again by Anay Patel

In addition to being one of the most storied rivalries in MLS history, the California Classico has an extra flair to it in 2019. New San Jose manager Matias Almeyda played for and managed Argentinian giant River Plate, and new LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto played for and managed their hated rival Boca Juniors. In addition to that, Almeyda managed Banfield for a period, the rival of Lanús, where Schelotto managed his first side. So on paper the coaching matchup should be about equal. In reality, it hasn’t been.

Following San Jose’s 3-0 win in the first edition of the 2019 California Clasico, LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto and captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic dismissed the win, claiming that the scoreline was not reflective of the close nature of the match. After all, the Galaxy were missing key players Jonathan dos Santos and Uriel Antuna, who were away on Gold Cup duty. Earthquakes homegrown player Tommy Thompson was dismissive of the comments, remarking that “there’s always a scoreboard, after the game and it said 3-0.” For the rematch only two weeks later, the table was set for a very interesting tactical matchup between two new managers trying to implement their philosophy into their clubs. In actuality, Almeda’s side came out on top again, this time by a score of 3-1.

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Loons Calling: How Minnesota United is Exceeding Expectations by Carl Carpenter

Making the step up from the NASL into Major League Soccer can be extremely difficult (commiserations Cincinnati fans), and Minnesota’s first two seasons in MLS are an excellent example of this. Defensively, the Loons struggled to keep the ball out of the net consistently (Statistically the worst defense in the league in 2017, and tied for third worst in 2018). Adrian Heath’s insistence on playing a high-risk/high-reward brand of soccer was seen as extremely foolhardy considering the construction of his roster, and his history of “brand over results” which ultimately cost him his job at Orlando City. 

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Breaking the Unbreakable: LAFC is Dominating MLS but Can Anybody Stop Them? by Cheuk Hei Ho

LAFC aren’t just good. They are a force.

They have 1.43 Expected Goal (xG) differential per game. No team in MLS history has had more than 1 xGD/game since 2013. LAFC’s xGD is only 0.12 fewer than Atlanta United’s and Red York Red Bulls’ COMBINED. Granted, we haven’t finished even half of the schedule. Things may change comes the last part of the season when LAFC slow down to prepare for the playoffs. But for now, you are witnessing the best team MLS has ever produced. They don’t just beat you, they obliterate you. 

The Supporter Shield is as good as gone; our prediction model gives LAFC 76% to win the league. But MLS is about the playoffs. In the new single game format, you only need to get lucky once. Every team has weaknesses. You just need to find those cracks.

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Hiding Behind Possession: FC Dallas' Youth Experiment by Cheuk Hei Ho & Jason Poon

For years, FC Dallas has been lauded for having one of -- if not the best, Academy programs in the United States. Dallas has signed the most Homegrown players in the league history (25), with no slowing down in sight. Despite having such a prolific Academy, it wasn’t until recent years that the club started taking full advantage of this system. And when former Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez took over as the head coach,  it was finally the go-time for the entire “Play Your Kids” movement. Part of that was by design; who else would know the former Academy players better than Luchi? Part of it was also timing; most of the Academy graduates had spent a significant amount of their formative soccer development years in the Dallas Academy and were ready to make the jump. With Gonzalez at the reign, it only made sense to usher in a youth movement.

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A Tactical Analysis of NYRB's 3-2 Win over OCSC by Coleman Larned

After starting the 2016 MLS season 1-0-6, New York Red Bulls earned a deserved victory at home against Orlando City SC. Although the 3-2 scoreline doesn't suggest domination, RBNY controlled the tempo for the majority of the game, after having to shake off and compensate for an early 3' Kyle Larin goal. The victory was confirmation of something our expected goals numbers have been saying all season – NYRB have gotten very unlucky with their finishing, having converted almost 13 fewer goals than they should have expected.

More after the jump.

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MLS Semifinals Tactical Preview by Coleman Larned

There are a multitude of tactical questions facing each remaining team in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Can New York's retooled wing-backs be relied on to defend capably? Can the Crew maintain a consistent attack with Federico Higuain's inconsistent performances? Can anything be done to stop Dallas' attack through Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo? And how will suspensions affect Portland's midfield? I'll examine each of these questions and provide a tactical preview of of the Conference Finals below.

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More rambling thoughts on formations by Drew Olsen

A big thanks to Dave Clark (or to whomever he got them from) of Sounder[at]Heart, from whom I'm about to rip the following quotes. Today during an pre-season opening presser with the media, Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid addressed questions concerning his roster construction and the possibilities of what type of formations the team could deploy this season. This is a pressing matter among most Sounders supporters who are attempting to peer inside the tactics of this unusual off-season of maneuvers for the club.

"We have an idea, as in terms of what we want to do. We want to play two upfront. We think we're better with two upfront and Dempsey, I think, is more effective when he has two guys in front of him... It's like I always say, people get too hung up in 'Is it a diamond midfield? Is it a 4-4-2? Is it a 4-2-3-1?' It's all about how players play on different parts of the field. Players like to play in certain areas of the field and they like to drift to certain areas. We just need to construct a system, if you want to call it that, and place guys on the field where they can compliment each other and be able to take advantage of where they like to play and what they do well."

Again, I love this because I think it truly reflects the current incarnation of soccer. Players are smarter now and more endowed with Soccer IQ than what they were years ago. Finding players that function best in certain areas of the field where your team needs it most should be the goal of any front office.

I always loved this quote from Dominic Kinnear, who told Matthew Doyle, the MLS Soccer Armchair Analyst, “You either have the ball or you don’t, I’m not a big fan of talking formations." There is just so much awesomeness there in the sense that Dom takes a complicated intrinsic function of the coach, and instead of further vague direction, he simplifies it.

Again, I've said it before that formations and placement matter. There was a reason that Seattle struggled last year when they used Adam Moffat in an awkward and unfamiliar location as they attempted to implement a diamond formation in an effort accentuate the talents of newly acquired Clint Dempsey. This ended up a bad decision for quite a few different reasons, outside of the fact that Adam Moffat just wasn't very good in his appearances at that position.

Another problem with the Sounders last season was their problem with certain players drifting across various places on the pitch, where I don't think the coaching staff had planned for them to be. This caused problems early in the season despite the level of talent at their disposal. A specific example would be Mario Martinez and his tendency to wander. This might not have been factored or accounted for as they deployed him to wide positions. Maybe they had expectations of him residing as a true winger in the vein of Mauro Rosales. I'm not sure this is specifically an issue so much as, if it's taken into account, you just get players to drift into the open spaces that are created with that movement.

You can call this a free flowing system or a variety of many other things. I suppose it doesn't really matter all that much. The important take away is that you have a method in place to score goals and prevent them from being scored against you. Whether you choose to exercise a formation to best do that or not, we're all judged by results. It'll be interesting to see how the Dynamo and Sounders continue to develop over the 2014 season.