Aided by a merciful Cardinals start time, there will be no dozing off too early tonight. It about to get really Dutch up in here, up in here - so let's just dive in.
The #8 is a very important player in this formation. He's the time-keeper, controlling match tempo when necessary. He's usually also the traffic director, deciding which direction we go up the field. He's the one who acts as foreman for the attack and spearheads the back. He is your transition game portal, your possession bulldog. He's rough enough for a scrap, but skillfull enough to make a play. And while doing all that, this player holds among the most important overall spacing keys.
Regulars will know I love to talk about passing triangles, which obviously give a ball carrier two close options as opposed to one. A while back, in either a comment section or the main post, I pointed out how the formation change takes our attack from being composed of five straight lanes to more closely emulating a Chinese checkers board, which is made up of triangles instead of squares.
Now, take that concept of the #10 looking forward into attack with triangular options and push it back into the middle of the field with a two-way view. Yeah... the #8 is amid a sea of triangles in all directions. The movements of a central midfielder always need to be efficient. In a 4-3-3 they need to be efficient in the precise right place. This guy should be able to regularly appear on cue in passing triangles with seven of the other nine field players. It's essential he seems to be everywhere - because he needs to be. In recent Eredivisie times, think of the impact of Van Bommel with PSV, Janssen at Twente or De Zeeuw with Ajax last season.
Off the ball, this player has several important duties, not all of which have gotten fair attention in US coaching until now: troll for weak clearances, anticipate lost knockdown second balls, crowd the opponent's pressure valve, force immediate pressure on turnovers in the attack end, help usher the other team's attack into wide traps, help protect the area of the box from open shots and always be available for the quick outlet from defense with mind to any necessary shielding or turns and a clear idea of where to move the ball before it arrives.
With the rock in his own end, he needs to often ride physical challenges without coughing up, make the first pass out positive, find the open hold-up man, weigh lead balls expertly, help the flank players up his side and ideally has a nasty diagonal ball in his pocket. Moving forward, there are the tempo and direction decisions, followed by much more. Wing outlets, long shots, slip passes, diagonal crosses - all of this falls under typical asks. This player can also overload the box on crosses (Hello, Michael Bradley) or wait for pinballs that pop out above the area (the aforementioned Eredivisie three). Even better, he could do either at any time. And when a center back or the wingback on his side jets forward, he hangs back a little for support.
It's all in the decisions and the spacial discipline. It's knowing which tool to pull from the belt at which moment and how much to use it. If there is a "coach on the field" in a 4-3-3, it is this guy. Above it all... erm... it helps if he has a bit of a shoulder chip and matching shoulder charge.
Bottom line: If this guy kills it out there and the four flank players are killing it, you look a lot like winning that day.
#5 - Dax McCarty
He needs seasoning at the international level, but I like the varied game he brings. His passing is positive and there's a little bit of grit there (not that he couldn't add more). A lot of people forget he was named to the Olympic All-Tournament Team and wore the armband against Chile in January. Such occurrences have reasons.
#4 - Jermaine Jones
The Schalke ball hound is again out of the doghouse, so he could quickly rise up the list. He has the tools to kill this position, but various elements of his game go missing too often, including mere judgment. Perhaps the more disciplined 4-3-3 can tame him just enough.
#3 - Stuart Holden
As I said, players injured past January camp will take a slide. It is a testament to Holden's game and field personality that he remains this high when match availability may not return until April or May. When fit, he's at the least good enough in this post to win his EPL club's Player of the Season prize having missed 12 games. His delicious diagonal cross, scatter-bug style, tackling accuracy and dangerous long shot make him just a bit like a righty Janssen that contains his emotions better.
#2 - Alejandro Bedoya
Oh, I know. He's only just settling in at Rangers. He hasn't exactly excelled in his USMNT outings to date. Only... he's never been allowed near his proper position. Put this guy in Nats engine room central and he will deliver. You watch. Bedoya loves to drop that shoulder and all his best attributes are wasted on the wing. Thus far, USMNT fans have not seen the real player. At all. He wants traffic and bodies to bang. He welcomes it, like a boxer. Put in him the ring, already.
#1 - Michael Bradley
Ask Heerenveen, dude is a #8 all day. Even more so than Holden, who is good enough here to slide Bradley back to defensive midfield when fit. Simply put, there is no better metronome/traffic director on the US roster and few can match his late box raid impact. He also just happens to be your Postcard From Europe at MLSS tomorrow.
Tomorrow, we go for goal with the #9's. The archive:
- Right backs
- Right center backs
- Left center backs
- Left backs
- Defensive midfielders
- Right wingers
- Greg Seltzer