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Plug and Play defense - fun in theory, but there's more to it

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The recent road trip demanded some plug and play defense. Brad Evans stepped into the backline and did a decent job. Why can't more guys do this?

These aren't the same person
These aren't the same person
Mike Russell

A long road trip with little rest, a trophy on the line and a return home with so few days of rest it was practically part of the road trip for training purposes. It was a rough end to September. There weren't as many points in that four-match stretch as anyone wanted, and there were some fairly dire circumstances in defense when Zach Scott went down injured (he could be back soon).

On top of that the non-Marshall CBs that went in as replacements didn't fare so well. Leo Gonzalez is old enough that going that many matches in that stretch is pretty much impossible and Dylan Remick has fallen back from his very hot start.

The options left to Sigi Schmid were minimal. He had a spot or two on the backline that needed to be filled and he had essentially zero days to practice. His answer, as always, was Brad Evans.

"We've played Brad lots of places with no practices," Schmid said. "It's not unusual. Ever since I first knew him, when I first had him in 2005 with the youth team, he was an attacking central midfielder in his college and I asked him to play outside midfield, I asked him to play center back and one of the reasons he ended up being with us was because of his versatility.

"I'm never concerned about that he's one of probably two players that I've coached over my career that tactically pretty much understand almost every position that you put him in and he'll do a pretty good job at that. It was him and Sasha Victorine was the other one. Sasha was really good at that I played him at center forward, I played him at centerback. With the Galaxy I played him outside midfield, center midfield and each one he adapted to without a lot of time. Brad's sort of been the same way."

Some roles are easily swappable. A withdrawn forward can be a CAM pretty easily. CAMs become wide attackers fairly often. Some fullbacks can step up, and those wide mids step back.

Stepping into CB is a bit different. Evans has done it within a game on at least two occasions. Leo Gonzalez slid from LB to LCB for a Reserve Game and an Open Cup match. Dylan Remick and Andy Rose filled in as Reserve CBs a few times this season. Those last few instances were for "lesser" games, meaning they can effectively be used as training sessions.

This season Rose is seeing himself in several roles CM, CDM, RM and those Reserve CB performances. He starts or subs on and is a clear rotational player. Many were hoping he'd get time at CB during that stretch. A forgotten thought was that the team basically had zero full practice sessions before any of the last four matches.

How do players get ready for multiple roles then?

"That's what we spend the rest of the season training for, especially in moments like this when it's late in the season and inevitably guys are going to go down with injury, fatigue," Rose told Sounder at Heart after Tuesday's session. "You have to be ready to step in that's what we work all year for preseason and everything that we're training out here every day - to make sure that coach knows that he can plug a hole no matter where it is."

It isn't a surprise that Sigi went with Evans at LB and Anibaba at CB and Azira starting with Rose on the bench. Rose had a hard run in the middle during the previous two matches.

Players can get some help from video in these circumstances, Top Assistant Brian Schmetzer does most of the video work. They can talk their way through things, but in the end doing it in practices and games is what gifts a player with the ability to adequately play an unfamiliar position.

As observers of the game it is easy to forget that these are real people with skills not EA FIFA ratings and the need for rest and practice. It takes players months to show coaches their flexibility in role. They aren't LEGO pieces or USB peripherals.

Maybe we get just a bit better at understanding lineup decisions just by remembering this.