Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
John Hackworth has looked a lot like Peter Nowak in recent weeks.
We’ve seen the experimentation, with Danny Cruz and Fabinho starting on the road, a converted forward playing center back, and a system that looks like a 4-3-3 but plays more like a 4-5-1. Two proven defenders are sitting on the bench with a DP midfielder. Neither first round draft pick has played. It’s almost like watching Nowak start a teenager (Zach Pfeffer) at Red Bull Arena in October or tinker with the best Union defense of all time to play Stefani Miglioranzi at sweeper.
I understand what Hack was trying to do on Saturday afternoon.
Going into that game, Montreal had the worst defense in the entire league. Their back line had conceded a league-worst 14 goals, and Frank Klopas had made some incredibly poor decisions, starting players like Eric Miller and Maxim Tissot while leaving guys like Jeb Brovsky on the bench. Cruz and Fabinho would theoretically be able to run at the Impact’s young fullbacks and press high into the Montreal half.
But Klopas wised up and decided to go with Hassoun Camara at right back and Brovsky at left back. With Matteo Ferrari and Karl Ouimette at center back and Patrice Bernier finally starting, it was probably the strongest look Montreal could offer.
When you haven’t scored a goal from the run of play in a long time, you’ve got to try different things to kick start the offense, and that’s what I believe Hack was thinking in Quebec.
I said from the beginning that I didn’t feel like this was a 4-3-3 team. I think the personnel is better suited to a 4-4-2 or any kind of system that ditches the center forward for two outright strikers.
Here’s a lineup I’d like to see:
MacMath (GK), Gaddis, Berry, White, Williams, Maidana, Okugo, Edu, Nogueira, Someone Who Can Score, and Another Person Who Can Score.
Let’s go back to front.
Andre Blake hasn’t played a single professional game. MacMath probably could have done better on the Montreal goal, but he’s been the least of the team’s problems this season. Let’s get Blake into some friendlies and Open Cup games before passing judgment.
It’s time to end the Aaron Wheeler experiment.
I think Aaron has done a good job at times this season, but he’s making a difficult transition from offense to defense. You see the mistakes that have popped up as a result of that, like the ball-watching on Montreal’s goal. He was put in a very tough position by the technical staff and didn’t get enough minutes at forward in 2013.
Austin Berry and Ethan White have more than 100 combined MLS appearances at center back. Berry was the 2012 rookie of the year (an apprentice to Arne Friedrich that year), and White started and played 90 minutes in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final, a 1-0 D.C. United win at Real Salt Lake.
At fullback, whatever Fabinho gives you going forward as a left-footed player isn’t enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Let’s put Gaddis on the left, where he can use his speed and lockdown ability to help Berry at LCB. The faster White can be put at RCB and we’ll just hope that Sheanon Williams snaps out of whatever funk he’s in.
Let’s get Amobi Okugo back into the middle.
He doesn’t want to play on the back line, and as good as he’s been there, it’s time for him to replace Brian Carroll.
I’m a fan of Carroll’s game, and I think he gets a lot of unfair criticism. He plays a simple game, breaks up attacks, and distributes horizontal balls. He’s won a couple of MLS Cups, and he was rock solid on those Columbus Crew and D.C. United teams.
But the defensive midfield position has evolved in MLS. You look at guys like Kyle Beckerman, Osvaldo Alonso, and Matias Laba, and you see players who add offensive and box-to-box qualities that Carroll simply doesn’t have.
That’s why I’m pairing Okugo with Maurice Edu in the central midfield. It is the most athletic pairing this team can put together, and both players have a great balance of offensive and defensive capability. Edu looks lost in the 4-3-3.
I don’t really like moving Nogueira to the right, and Maidana on the left isn’t ideal, but they both need to be on the field. You can play a flat 4-4-2, like the Galaxy, and let these guys operate on the flanks. Or, you can let them sink inside and operate out of an “empty bucket” 4-2-2-2 with the fullbacks pushing up into the vacated space. The empty bucket is sort of a joke in Union media circles, but the 2011 team was actually somewhat successful using that shape.
The issue with the 4-3-3 is that Maurice Edu doesn’t know where to position himself, due to Carroll sitting deep and Nogueira getting the bulk of the touches. Nogueira’s movement is fine, but he displaces Edu when he drops too deep to receive the ball. That’s why I’m starting Nogueira wide and giving him license to move centrally with Williams filling the gap.
Just give me two people who can score.
Maybe it’s Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey. Maybe it’s Leo Fernandes and Andrew Wenger. Let’s go back to the two-striker system that was successful for the first half of 2013.
The lack of movement in the final third has been incredibly poor, and you see how Portland has similarly struggled with a young player like Urruti in the center forward position. Bulldog-style forwards like Dom Dwyer don’t come along very often, and you see how well he fits into Kansas City’s high-press system. Jack McInerney wasn’t a 4-3-3 striker, but at least he could finish scoring opportunities and knew how to position himself inside the box. Andrew Wenger works much harder but doesn’t have the sharpness that Jack has in the final third.
Give me Andre Blake, Pedro Ribeiro, and five other guys.
The Antoine Hoppenot sub doesn’t work anymore. Fernandes is a good option off the bench if he’s not starting. I’d also like to see Carroll in this position to provide a defensive alternative.
This formation puts your eight most athletic, mobile, and capable players into midfield and defense. The key is to get two strikers on the field, scrap the 4-3-3, and allow your offseason acquisitions to shine in the middle of the park.