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Dreams of starting 3-5-2 are Unfounded

James Riley and Alvaro Fernandez both don't play in a conventional 3-5-2 as a starting formation.
James Riley and Alvaro Fernandez both don't play in a conventional 3-5-2 as a starting formation.

With Sigi Schmid's quotes to the media post-game yesterday about the planned possibility of a shift to the 3-5-2 late in game with specific intent; speculation is mounting around the internet, be it from writers (Prost Soccer) or commenters (New Tribune) at various other sites. It is interesting speculation, but there are a few reasons it couldn't work long term. Foremost, the quote indicates that it was a late game tactic.

... so we switched to a 3-5-2.  When we switched to that and brought in Montero and Jaqua I thought we got more offense created and I think based upon the last 15 minutes we deserved to get an equalizer.  I thought we were creating more chances up front even though we left ourselves open a little bit in the back

Indications of it being temporary are that Montero normaly starts, and that it is better to be a defensive team than offensive team over the long term. You earn more points on average from shutting out the opponent than failing to score. That defensive issue could be addressed by adjusting to the conventional 3-5-2, but that has some issues.

The conventional 3-5-2 is three centerbacks, two wingbacks, a central triangle of some sorts and two forwards. This immediately shows several issues.

  • Wingbacks - Seattle has three that could work in James Riley (he kind of is one in a 4-man back line), Leo Gonzalez (can get forward) and Michael Tetteh (may get forward too much to be a wingback even). There are far outside shots that a Lamar Neagle or Roger Levesque could learn this role.
  • Forwards - Sigi has been working hard to establish Big/Small Pairings. O'Brian White, Nate Jaqua and the now-departed Blaise Nkufo with the likes of Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero and Mike Fucito was the design at a point in the offseason. We still see those pairings.
  • Centerbacks - The way to get the best defense from a 3 man bakcline is with centerbacks, and Seattle has three strong ones. This limits the players who could enter the attack as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni starting.

But it is a bad idea for other reasons. That three-man triangle would need to include Steve Zakuani, Alvaro Fernandez, Osvaldo Alonso and Rosales. Which is kind of difficult because 4 is bigger than 3. These are four of the best players on the team, and need to play.

In any discussion of a possible shift in tactics or formations one must consider those players that you identify as key players, as the best players on the squad - Montero, Rosales, Alvaro, Alonso, Parke and Keller are on that list in most reader's opinions. If you think about a 3-man back line what could be done?

Now I'm going to stick with the idea of a Target Forward. In that role I would go with White, but Jaqua works too. I'm also going to recognize that Steve Zakuani is much more a winger than a wide midfielder, and that Rosales can do that role on the opposite side.

Montero as a trequartista has been thoroughly recognized on this site. So with that attacking four in mind how do things look?
















Now, I'm not proposing that Alvaro and Brad Evans play as wingbacks. They aren't there for width, but as box-to-box outside midfielders in a kind of 3-3-3-1. Now, if you are old-school and think in 3 bands this could be called a 3-5-2, but here the middle band of 3 is about shifting to meet the needs on defense or offense. There are a lot of triangles here for passing lanes, but the communication required on defense is not easily implemented mid-season.

The second team (that one to win the Open Cup?) would have a back three of Tyson Wahl, Taylor Graham and Zach Scott. The next three would be Leo Gonzalez, Servando Carrasco and James Riley (are two of those really 2nd teamers?). In the offensive band of three with Tetteh, Fucito, Neagle and Jaqua up top it could compete. This completely ignores Brad Evans and Erik Friberg.

In the end, no 3-man back-line is going to be the answer. The only way to play the talent on this team is through creative rotation of starters, in-game tactical adjustments, and starts due to injury. This is still a deep team, with more players capable of starting, and in various roles, than the average MLS team.

We will continue to see experimentation in short bursts, but they are in no way indicative of a permanent change.

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