Thursday, March 29, 2018

Okay, let's do this damn thing.

Ever seen a movie with a montage where the character is trying to formulate something creative, only to repeatedly tear the top page of their scratch pad, crumble it into a ball and toss it on a pile of previous false start efforts. That's what trying to organize the 3-5-2 midfield depth charts, which are linked to several important variables regarding who will available at a given time and who will run the flanks. Ranking them would be tough enough, but I even had great difficulty decided how to break down the three player slots.

In the interest of gettin' her done, I finally decided to start by simply separating into two main scenarios: the one with Christian Pulisic and the one without him. That division certainly makes the "with" scene a much more straightforward endeavor. The without variety is still laden with "But what if? questions, but we'll get that in a moment.


When the Borussia Dortmund ace is on board, it's best that the team runs true wingbacks, whose default positioning lies behind the young playmaker. Of course, we'll need them to get forward with regularity, but it's also best if they can take a lot of defensive responsibilities away from Pulisic.

As for the midfield set-up at his back, there are two ways to go. We can run dual #6's or one of those with a two-way transition type that works from defense-first setting. Because of our player pool, the latter strikes me as the best way to go. And so that's how we'll rank them. First, the defensive mids:

Perry Kitchen
Wil Trapp
Geoff Cameron
Michael Bradley

Future watch: Chris Durkin, Derrick Jones, Cameron Lindley

Again, Williams would likely be the starter listed here if not for his season-ending injury. As for who is listed, it's more a rough "who I want to see during this period" ranking than a rigid depth chart. Kitchen may well end up down the list some, but I really want to see what he could do in this scenario. He looks more decisive and dependable from the time spent in Europe.

In an ideal world, Trapp could battle for the other role - but we all know there's no way he can compete with the excellent troupe of two-way shuttlers at our disposal. The Nats will simply need to help build up his defensive steel. Cameron and Bradley are the known quantities, and I am not averse to one or the other providing a veteran influence on selected occasions (i.e. depending on which players are available). As with Trapp, I'd prefer to consider Bradley in the #8 pile for this set-up, but there's absolutely no need to take minutes away from the kids.

Of the youngsters, Jones is tailor-made for this role. Though he's started the Union season as a back-up, I'm hoping to see him take a big leap this season.

Now, onto the conduit men...

Tyler Adams
Weston McKennie
Kellyn Acosta

In the frame: Marky Delgado, Cristian Roldan
Future watch: Ian Harkes, Keaton Parks


This gets more complicated. Off the bat, we have the decision of whether to go with double-6's, double-8's or the more askew triangle that I typically push for the 4-3-3 set. That choice lays the blueprint, setting the necessary position of the wide guys.

When Pulisic is not around, I'm probably most inclined to go with a pair of two-way guys - and I think you already know the first names I'll call for those jobs - backed by a gate keeper who can support possession. For MLS fans, an Alexander Ring-esque player would be optimal for the defensive midfield spot.

This sort of line-up would call more for track-back wingers than for true wingbacks. And it's no secret we have several options of this flank ilk.

For the variants ahead, let's go back to the "hockey line" system of ranking used during the 3-5-2 center back chart. These go left-DM-right.

McKennie - Kitchen - Adams
Morales - Trapp - Acosta

To be honest, this set-up loses some luster compared to other looks when, say, Pulisic's Bundesliga rival McKennie is not available. The good news is that won't be an issue in June. Kitchen and Trapp are effectively 1 and 1A here. I'd love to see these two battle hard for a place while Williams is shelved.

Next, we'll hit the double-DM tactic (DM-AM-DM)...

Kitchen - McKennie - Adams
Trapp - Hyndman - Acosta
Cameron - Roldan - Bradley

If McKennie or Roldan is the CM, we'll want the wide men slightly forward. If Hyndman is in, they can hang back between the two midfield lines. There really aren't actually many timelines where I'd suggest this, but it won't hurt to give it a run under specific circumstances

The bold (or is it risky) way, naturally, would be the staggered midfield, which will list in DM-#8-#10 order.

Trapp - McKennie - Saief*
Kitchen - Adams - Kljestan
Cameron - "Hot spot" - Hyndman

Two instant explanations. First, the asterisk next to Saief indicates that, for the first time ever over years of Clipboard, a player will officially list at two positions. The Anderlecht man will typically reside on a wing list, but many observers wouldn't mind checking him out in a more central attacking role. I'm one of them. He wants the ball, can dangle and win free kicks, can pick a pass or raid the box.

The second this that should immediately strike as odd is the "hot spot" spot. It's quite simple to operate: take the one out of Acosta, Bradley and Roldan in the best form and fitness.

A less obvious matter is to explain an adjustment when McKennie is there. Normally, I'd station the two-way midfielder on the right and shade the playmaker left. With the Schalke hotshot, we'll switch that around.


Whew! Deep breath, Greg. There will not be any great delay in moving on to the forward line rundowns. I may be so excited to leave the midfield as to run the 4-3-3 roles later today.

- Greg Seltzer


Cathal said...

Greg - I'm a little puzzled on some of your logic, which is understandable given that there are competing objectives. The goal to win games vs. the goal to grow the youngsters need to sort themselves out, but those are easily the top priorities. And I question having guys like Kitchen - who is who he is at this point, at 26 - over Bradley. Trapp had an encouraging performance against Paraguay, but he's 25 and still in MLS. Is he really a better option, right now, over Bradley or Cameron? You bring up the idea of strengthening his defense through the Nats, but only rarely do players improve from national team play. The onus is on their club situation to grow their skillset.

I want to wash away the stink of the past as much as possible, but there is a sad reality that guys like Bradley, Jozy, and even Dempsey still have roles to play, games to start, not just for their experience but also their impact. They are still stars on some of the best MLS teams, which is where a lot of your picks happen to come from.

DaMa said...

Strongly disagree with the previous post. The only priority right now should be growing the youngsters.

I feel you on the ton of variables thing, but if i were playing a 3-5-2 with CP10 available, I think the first midfield I want a look at is Adams, McKennie and CP10. Maybe you consider that as more of a dual 8's and so you steered away from it (you obviously considered it at some point). But forgetting the whole assigning a philosophy first thing (which is how you wind up spltting up Adams and Mckennie), doesn't it seem like those three players are the three that have the highest ceiling both individually and as a threesome? Maybe it leaves you with a really young guy playing a very important defensive anchor position, but it seems pretty likely that Adams's best position in as a rangy 6 in the Kante mold (obviously standard disclaimer that I am not putting him in that category of talent by any means, just stylistically)?

I think in the playing the young guys mode that we are in, the fist item on the list is figuring out if those three can fit in the same midfield (or does Adams need to be a wing back). The chance that the answer is yes could really be the future of the national team.

Cathal said...

@DaMA I'm not sure guys like Kitchen, Trapp, or Morales are youngsters though - that's what I'm saying. Danny Williams is 30 next year. I can totally justify putting the pressure on Adams, because he IS the future. Those caps are useful to getting him a work permit overseas. But if we're starting Perry Kitchen in the Gold Cup next year, how is that growing the youngsters?

DaMa said...

@cathal I hear ya and point well taken. I do think the gold cup is a bit different. I think advancing and succeeding there is important just to give the young guys the full experience of pressure. That doesn't mean I would start kitchen per se, but that'a partly because I rate him a bit lower than Greg. I would consider someone like Nagbe for the Gold Cup, though I am not sure he would start in my 3-5-2. Maybe on the theory that he could be a defensively responsible offensive oriented wing (or giving Adams/McKennie some rest from the middle 3 for a match). Brooks is a good example. I want EPB/CCV/Miazga (and Glad... man we have a lot of young CBs) to get work, but JB would start the key matches if available.

Patrick said...

Any clipboard that site McKennie and starts Kitchen needs to be sent back to the drawing board.

CP doesn't play CM for his club. If you want to run 3-5-2, make him part of the 2. That gives you room for Adams and McKennie and Kitchen/Trapp/Bradley/Williams/Saief.


If you want to move McKennie up and sit Saief and start Trapp/Bradley/Kitchen, that is ok.