The Numbers Game

So I'm watching Real Madrid patiently taking apart the Toronto defense (3-0 at the 25 minute mark as I write). And I know you may be thinking, "So what, Fullback, most MLS attacks take apart the TFC defense."

But did you know that United ships them at exactly the same rate (1.6 goals allowed per game) that TFC do? And what worries me even more than Kaka and Ronaldo and Benzema and Raul is what Kaka and Ronaldo and Bezema and Raul will do when faced with a three-man back line. Which brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to the point I really wanted to discuss.

Does anybody think we can accomplish anything in a three-back system this year (besides get out grubby paws on the Open Cup again)?

Yes, there are times when a three back set can work, notably when facing inferior opposition (good luck with that in the parity-infested waters of MLS!) or employing a hybrid midfielder/defender that augments both lines as needed (see Germany and Ajax/Holland of yore and the accompanying special talents required to fill this role) or using wingbacks and a sweeper (really more of a 5-3-2 now...). Instead, we're saddled with a system that proves all too vulnerable to speed, width, and counterattacks and often results in comic indecision by the defense.

...To the tune of surrendering 1.6 goals per game. For some perspective, consider the laughable Red Bulls' league-worst mark of 1.8.

Is that entirely the fault of the system? Might it not also have something to do with attackers not closing down space, a midfield not strong or mobile enough, and/or a not entirely ready for prime time defense? True, but I'd also argue that (1) three defenders stretched across the width of the field without any cover are prone to lapses and penetration and are under constant pressure to make the right decision, quickly, with no safety net. Also, (2) a manager's job is to work with the tools he's given, not try loosen bolts with a hammer.

So what might a four-back United look like?

How about Emilio or Pontius up top...

Moreno or Gomez tucked beneath with two of Pontius, Quaranta, or Boyzzz on the flanks...

Simms tucked deep in midfield with Olsen or Szetela having a bit more license to get forward and create...

Wallace or Burch on the left of defense with Namoff on the right...

Jakovic paired with Janicki (gag!), Burch (avert eyes!), John (red card!), or new foreign guy (fingers crossed!) in the middle...

and Wicks (gulp!) in net.

That work for you?

I guess the only saving grace we'll have when Tommy inevitably sends out the 3-5-2 on Sunday (besides the fact that the result counts for nothing but pride) is that most of Madrid's attacks seem to be going down their left flank, thus avoiding the gaping hole of suckitude on our own left.



  1. I can't remember. Were we playing with three in the back or four in the back the last time we played Real Madrid? I think it was three.

    The points you make are valid, however. When your center back, Jakovic, says he feels more comfortable in a four back system, then you have to give it some thought. The problem is personnel. I like Janicki but he is not starting material at this point. Burch is no good in the middle. McTavish is serviceable. John is too slow. Maybe our Rwandan guy with the long name (we'll have to call him David in true Brazilian fashion) can cut it but essentially this is a team re-configuration issue we have to address for next year by getting at least one more decent center back.

  2. I could see a United 4-4-2 formation look very similar to the formation the USMNT was using at the Confederation's Cup. The midfield is easy to figure out with Fred/Quaranta/Pontius/Khumalo on the wings and Simms/Olsen/Szetela/Wallace in the middle.

    But like you, I struggle identifying our best backline. Judging only from what I've seen in 2009, Burch has been generally a better defender than Janicki, but I also think Burch's best position is as LB in a 4-man backline, because it gives him a bit more opportunity to get forward.

  3. Considering my lack of trust in any of our central options to pair Jakovic, I wonder what a back line featuring Burch/Wallace on the left, McTavish on the right, and Namoff + Jakovic in the middle might look like?

    And does the rumored loan acquisition of Shipalane (an out-and-out winger if ever I saw one) from Harrisburg give us any indication that maybe Tommy's mulling a switch? Or does it just indicate that N'Silu's been recognized for the steaming pile he is?