Among the many former Sounders still playing, perhaps the most enigmatic is Alvaro Fernandez. I have said that Flaco was the kind of player MLS needed, but didn't want. He seems to go down in history as yet another foreign player Sigi Schmid didn't really know what to do with. We could easily write him off as just another failed DP signing; in this case because he simply wasn't good enough to justify the salary.
Flaco played a key role in the 2011 team that led the League in goals, despite going almost the entire season without a true starting caliber top forward (aka the "not-Montero" forward position). In August of that year - right about the time the Sounders were tearing through their league and continental opposition, I wrote that he was essentially mis-cast as a wide midfielder - at least the "Sigi's arrow" type of wide midfielder.
That season, Flaco essentially took the midfield spot vacated by Steve Zakuani after his horrible injury, but he was far from a drag-and-drop replacement. He was a wide attacking midfielder with a central midfielder's style. He was technical and deliberate, popping up in fortuitous positions to score goals. Despite being a gifted passer, he finished the season with no assists. It was a statistical anomaly for one of the few Sounders to have ever employed the underlying principles of "tiki-taka" style soccer.
Another factor in the 2011 season was that, faced with a somewhat dire injury and availability situation among his midfielders, Sigi ran the diamond for a time in the first half of the season. The formation was employed to some mixed reviews, but did prove to be successful in grinding out a series of important results before the team could return to its more swashbuckling ways as the summer progressed. Here is what I said about Flaco and the diamond in that aforementioned 2011 article:
"It could be said that Sigi's affair with the diamond midfield was little more than an attempt to get his most skilled player into his ideal spot. Certainly not a winger, but also not necessarily a true CM - his finesse and frame don't necessarily translate to an MLS central midfield - it made sense that Fernandez would be comfortable as the left of the two "shuttlers" in a diamond 4-4-2. As I explored previously, the two shuttlers, the nominal "outside" mids between the CDM and the CAM in the diamond, have more in common with the two CM's who operate in front of a CDM in the 4-1-2-3 version of 4-3-3, than they do with the outside mid/wingers in the common "bucket 4-4-2". "
At this point, it is important to remember that Sigi chose not to start Mauro Rosales at Portland in the playoffs, with the team already down a goal and needing an offensive spark. Rosales simply didn't fit in as a wide midfielder in that formation. You can argue with many things that Sigi did late in the season, but you can't really argue with that, because it's true.
Obviously, there is considerable speculation among the denizens of Sounderland that the team will be moving forward in 2014 running the diamond. If so, there hardly seems a better candidate than the one and only Flaco Fernandez. The idea is instantly quite intriguing, providing the Sounders with a capable wide midfielder who we know is quite capable of scoring goals in quality and meaning.
Adrian Hanauer is currently sitting on an allegedly giant stack of allocation money. The recent departures of Adam Moffat, Mauro Rosales, and Steve Zakuani have opened chunks of space in the midfield. Now, Dave tells me it would be possible to bring Flaco back on a non-DP salary. This kind of makes too much sense, does it not?
This also has interesting possibilities for Brad Evans as the right mid. Best described as a "utility midfielder" he is somewhere between a CDM and a WAM - or even a wingback - and certainly better deployed on the right. I was struck with the realization that one of the reasons for Sigi's quixotic late-season tactics change was to get one of his most trusted players into his ideal role (not unlike the 2011 diamond and Flaco). Hanauer has already commented that the team will be built around Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, and Clint Dempsey.
The diamond, in reality, represents a pretty fundamental tactical switch from the Sigi's arrow or bucket 4-4-2. The diamond 4-4-2 really has more in common with a 4-3-3, or at least one of the two versions of the 4-3-3, the 4-1-2-3. This is the version that uses a single deep CDM - who in our case is clearly Alonso, the best CDM perhaps in MLS history - and two shuttling, box-to-box type mids. By way of contrast, the 4-3-3 we saw Portland use featured two holders and a high CAM (Diego Valeri). Portland's version of the 4-3-3 is nearly indistinguishable form the 4-2-3-1; which in turn was not too far from the old "Sigi's Arrow" with Fredy Montero.
With Deandre Yedlin as the more attacking fullback - indeed almost a wingback - it will help to have the more defensively aware Evans as the right of the two box-to-box midfielders. Flaco would be able to step into a more "free" role, popping up where he needs to. The diamond is, necessarily, a narrow midfield; which can be a serious drawback. Unlike the 4-3-3 which can add midfield width from either wingers or fullbacks, the diamond's only real source of width comes from fullbacks. However, that doesn't mean that Dempsey or Obafemi Martins can't flow into wide areas as an outlet, keeping Kenny Cooper up top as a target man.
The 4-4-2 diamond may not be my favorite formation, but if done right it can work and work well. As with all formations, the defined shape is less important than the mix of roles and styles it puts on the field. Even without a full commitment to a diamond, Alvaro Fernandez's style and skillset would be a valuable addition to this team.