Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Clipboard Jungle

We've reached the left center back portion of our program... which means I don't need to cover job description. Yay.

What I will do is add in a couple extra hypothetical details to think about with the construction of a 4-3-3 back line. When it comes to casting this production, it can be the details that give the field balance needed for it to work right.

For example, yesterday we talked about having a center back capable of occasionally venturing forward on the dribble. And as you probably know by now, cover rotation when a player advanced out of the back is key in Total Football. Causing match-up problems and flooding a lane are great, holes in defense when there's a turnover are not.

Thus, when filling in the back line, it can help to consider the personnel placement. If your right back is more adventurous up the wing than the left back, it may help the balance to have the dribbling center back be the one on the left.

If you look at the Ajax line-up this weekend, that's exactly what you'll see. Right-sider Van der Wiel raids far more religiously than left-sider Anita, while LCB Vertonghen rushes into attack far more frequently than partner Alderweireld. Looking back to when Maxwell and Chivu were on the left side of defense for Ajax, the Brazilian was all but a left winger, which made the normally adventurous Chivu stay home more often.

Expanding this concept into the run of play, if Vertonghen suddenly sets off on a run upfield, Anita has to ride off his shoulder for support or quick pressure in case of a turnover. As such, both Alderweireld and Van der Wiel will hang back and shift a little to the left, with defensive midfielder Janssen curtailing his desire to get into attack to hang back on about Anita's line for providing support off Vertonghen's other shoulder.

If Vertonghen gets caught up (which is rare), Janssen can easily drop into defense for him while Anita either pressures the ball or joins in sliding back as marker. If not, Vertonghen has likely helped cause some measure of trouble or simply set up the "half-court" possession. You can watch all of these elements at work during most any Ajax league match.

Yeah, so basically I'm going to be yammering on about various examples of spacial balance positioning throughout this entire exercise. Just so you know now. It's kiiiinduva big deal in the 4-3-3. I'll get into exactly why later on.

#5 - Jeff Parke

Get set for a couple natural righties with two good feet on this list, and here's one. I'm a bit concerned with his blind shoulder coverage (an important aspect when dealing with lots of counters), but Parke definitely can scrap and then pass the ball. Of course, he's also uncapped - which hasn't stopped my esteemed colleague, The Armchair Analyst, from insisting to me in conversation that he should be a USMNT starter now. For me, he beats out Nat Borchers to help fill our "unknown" quota in this list.

#4 - Tim Ream

I was never one to anoint Ream the passing wonder to redefine our back line when he was on, and I'm not going to toss him out now that some struggles have appeared. He's still an enticing prospect that needs to develop in several ways - including fine tuning the decision making on those terrific splitting passes when he works international. But yeah, Arsenal tried to buy him and he's talented and he should rebound a bit and be in the mix during qualifying.

#3 - Zak Whitbread

If he could only stay healthy, a place in the selection would be within reach. If Whitbread can prove he's a Premier League defender, he can defend against high skill level at the highest game speed. Yet another set piece wonder at both ends, the Texas native with a Scouse drawl still needs to show he can get the job done against the more continental or Latin-flavored attacks. Let's just get him fit and see how he does against Arsenal and Man City in November. There won't be any problem finding him the other kind of opposition in CONCACAF.

#2 - George John

Gosh, wouldn't it be great to always have at least two left center backs with USMNT experience? Oh well... first I suppose we should actually get John to our side. Assuming that can be done, we have a new all-purpose righty defender good enough with both feet to comfortably work the left. Just ask FC Dallas fans. Come World Cup, he may be #1 - but I'm not one to start newbies at the back in qualifier one.

#1 - Carlos Bocanegra

Okay, let's be real. We don't have an international-quality adventurous center back yet. We must graduate our way up to the ideal they have in mind. On top of that reality, it ain't easy to get caps around the captain, which in turn makes it tough for the others to gain experience. With Bocanegra now in fine form at Rangers, he's gotta be considered a Matchday One starter in ink at this time. And as he will no longer be playing left back, ever ever ever, here we are.

The full boat thus far:

- Keepers
- Right backs
- Right center backs

- Greg Seltzer


Matt said...

Reading this and yesterdays it doesn't really sound like we have guys ready to play this system at the international level the way you say it's played by Ajax. I guess that's your point about learning the 101 class first, but I can't think of any of the guys you mention coming out of the back, in possession, reliably, under real pressure.

SPA2TACU5 said...

A bocanegra - onyewu pairing doesnt seem future proof or capable of playing 4-3-3.

Carlos moving into midfield for some positional play or even making forward runs? I don't think so. Besides both of them are too old to change their game into the ways of 4-3-3. And Bocanegra definitely lacks the speed to play a high defensive line.

Greg Seltzer said...

Remember... this is with qualifier one in mind. Not all of them. Not the last one. Not World Cup.

And yes, you must walk before you can run. All these extra little details are not day one requirements or instant noodles - they are eventual ideals, things to progress up to. I'm sorry if I've over-tantalized anyone with thoughts of full-on USMNT Total Football soon. It's gonna take some time.

As the USMNT implements this new way, I would expect the ball-advancing center back to wait a bit. For now, the CBs will generally stay home and let the wingbacks handle attacking.

And that's just it, you can't be discouraged because it doesn't match the ideal right away. It's an evolution process and it need not match the ideal right away to work well.

Oh and... Gooch played several games of 4-3-3 with the un-speedy Wisgerhof as his partner last season. It didn't slow Twente down any. There can always be little adjustment wrinkles when the optimum line-up isn't available.

Tee said...

What about Geoff Cameron? I know he hasn't had a cap yet, but when he plays center back for the Dynamo he can bring possession and vision.

Greg Seltzer said...

As much as he plays in defense for Houston and as much as I can see the value of having him in defense, I'm listing him somewhere else on the field diagram. I'll explain why then.

Castrollin said...

Overall, I'm a fan of your selections.

Could you talk a bit more about why you're players to specific positions? Nowadays, it seems that most players on top tier teams can play an array of positions. A left center back could without a doubt play right center back.

Also, how would you rate MLS compared to some of the European leagues? For example, would a typical MLS all star be better or worse than a serviceable starter on a mid/low table team in the Bundesliga?

Sorry for the vague example. I'm thinking that all other things equal, the typical MLS all star would generally cost more on the transfer market than the serviceable starter. Due to that opinion, I'd pick the MLS guy... but that's just me

Greg Seltzer said...

Well, first off, I do not agree that a right center back and left center back are universally interchangeable. Some guys favor one side with their feet, their awareness, their comfort of execution. Some guys head away crosses better with one side of their head than they do the other. They aren't the same thing; they're mirrors. And like in a dance crew, some folks need dougie left, some need to dougie right and some can dougie either way. We no longer want, oh well he can pass there kinda. We want the players doing their dougie.

The idea of confining players to their optimum position grants continuity and, simply, optimum performance.

I will say that these type of descriptions you ask for will be more prevalent as we move up the field. My ability to discuss defensive things in detail lags behind my ability to explain the midfield and attack. As anyone who has seen me play can testify, I am not a defender. :D

Now to the other thing, "typical MLS all star" is to arbitrary. That being said, quite obviously, a guy playing admirably in the Bundesliga, let alone with a middler, should all other things equal be ahead of the MLS standout. Teams from MLS would have a challenge excelling in the 2.Bundesliga (a fair share of which has to do with the compared roster sizes).

And when factoring in MLS transfer fee asks, don't forget to factor in that they are often rather elevated. I'm not judging, because these guys do have an extra marketing value at home - but it gets elevated. After what happened with Bradley, there are no more American cheapies from MLS. Suitors have to pay up (think Eddie Johnson).

Jay said...

And who wants another Eddie Johnson? Nobody, apparently.

SPA2TACU5 said...

@ Catrollin

"Could you talk a bit more about why you're players to specific positions? Nowadays, it seems that most players on top tier teams can play an array of positions. A left center back could without a doubt play right center back."

First of all a lot of top tier teams play with midfielders who will pick up the ball just in front of their defense so the center backs (CB) don't have to pass it into midfield and can focus on defending without having to be error-proof passers.

But since we're aiming at Total Football and 4-3-3, the #4 and the #10 are the playmakers; #10 doesn't drop too far back, #4 (center back) plays the ball into midfield.

What does this mean for the two CB's? Both of them need to have skills on the ball, both in handling it and passing it. As there are hardly any two footed players in professional soccer, even the top players will handle and definitely pass with their strong foot.

To illustrate the difference between a CB in and outside his natural position I've made this little drawing:

I hope this makes sense.

Keep in mind here that time/space is the key to the passing game. Every extra touch/turn takes time resulting in giving the opponent opportunity to close down the space and cut off potential forward ball movement.

tdjakes said...

Matt Besler is better than Tim Ream. He can pass decently and get forward. He's a better 1v1 and zonal defender than Ream and has a ridiculous long throw that would help the US create more set plays to score from. When Besler came on in the Man U all-star game, all the scoring dried up.