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The "New" Formation - Three Forwards

SEATTLE - MAY 01:  Freddie Ljungberg commands the ball in the 4-3-3. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE - MAY 01: Freddie Ljungberg commands the ball in the 4-3-3. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Saturday night, if you watched at home or listened on the radio you heard many mentions of the new 4-3-3 that Sigi rolled out in order to get a bit more offense, and to try and get better passing from the Seattle side. This "new" formation put Zakuani, Montero and Evans in a band of three at the top, with Ljungberg in a Center Attacking Mid and the freedom to roam.

Simply put the shift was from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-1-3, and while that changes the standard nomenclature from 4-5-1 to 4-3-3, what was the actual shift in play by pushing the wingers forward another 15 yards or so? While many would think that those two wide forwards would have lesser defensive responsibilities, they actually provided more defensive pressure along the back four of the opposition against the Crew.

It wasn't a lessening of responsibility, but instead a shift of where that pressure would be applied. High pressure has the advantage of being more likely to force errors in passing as if defenders were good at passing they would be midfielders (ok, it isn't that simple).  This does though leave space in the wide central third, but the shift from a stacked two central mids to the more side-by-side nature limited that space. Brad Evans did drift back a bit further into the same band as Ljungberg at times, but considering his long time spent as a midfielder this is to be expected.

With Ljungberg drifting back to pick the ball up off the feet of the Crew from behind this meant that those wider spaces had a fullback and a defensive midfielder in front of them with a CAM ready to harry, or to just prevent the backwards pass to reset the play. Defensively the formation was a success. It wasn't a match-up of shape that determined the goals against for the Sounders, but Lenhart's ability in the air against Ianni, and earlier against Riley.

It was on offense though where we got to see the full impact of the shift to three forwards with Ljungberg in an attacking midfield role. First by keeping the Freddyain off the same plane it meant that their interactions would be accented by through balls, diagonal passes and overlapping runs, rather than the sideways passing that we had been seeing in the past. Maximizing the interplay between these will lead to good things for the Sounders in the long run.

With more space to get forward both Leo and Riley were more effective at directing attacks down the flank, and did so without leaving two-thirds of the pitch behind them. They had passing options with two forwards at about 15-20 yards, Ljungberg and an outlet pass to Alonso or Vagenas that was not a retreat, but instead a reset. In the past these backwards, or sideways passes ended attacks and led to turnovers in the middle of the pitch.

Last night they were part of the actual attack and forced activity from the forwards and attacking midfielders of the Crew. Over 90 minutes that activity can wear a player down, especially the league's most dynamic talents like GBS. The use of this short pass to re-approach the defense and find new lanes of entry is a key to the type of possession game that Sigi has employed with Seattle.

Giving Freddie Ljungberg three forward options meant that the rapid counter 1-2-3 passes that we long ago identified as "Sigi's Game" meant that the best player in Rave Green (even a night in Blue) would be able to direct that final moment. It also meant that he would have two options that are clearly good MLS goal scorers.

In the future we may see Noonan, Fucito and Jaqua as the third forward with Estrada and Sturgis backing up Ljungberg. If the shift to the 4-3-3 is going to be like the shift that sparked Real Salt Lake's midsesaon revival last year the depth chart will shift quite a bit, as the band of two and band of three in the new formation have differing responsibilities.

It will be Brad Evans who loses the most playing time when all are healthy, but he will also be utilized in each band at times. He could be a starter at RW, CAM, and CDM, and would be adequate cover at RWB as well. His tactical knowledge is a strength and so we should expect to see a lot of Evans even as his starting spot is lost.

There are weaknesses to the 4-3-3, particularly if the opposing team's best player is a wide midfielder with great vision and on ball skills, let's call him Donovan, by shape alone he would be in a lot of space and able to provide that amazing service to Buddle. So if we see the 4-3-3 again, it will be a different version in order to shut down Landon.

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