Now that the dust has settled from Sunday’s Canadian heartbreak, here are three thoughts on Republic’s 1-2 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2:
1. Buckle’s tactical experiment/gamble backfired.
If you were watching the game on Sunday, your ears may have perked up upon hearing Republic’s starting lineup. Rather than the 4-4-1-1 formation we have grown accustomed to seeing, Head Coach Paul Buckle switched things up and opted to start the match with a defensive 5-3-2 formation.
That, in and of itself, was not too strange, especially given the recent run of bad results—Republic’s games have lately been a tale of two incongruent halves, often struggling to find a balance between starting strong and closing out games. However, what was so striking about Buckle’s starting eleven was the lack of balance in the lineup.
In addition to a backline of five defenders (Kiffe, Christian, Foran, da Fonte, Colvey), Buckle started two defensive-minded players in midfield: JJ Koval and the on-loan Jeremy Hall, a natural full-back playing out of his usual role in his first game with Republic FC (more on him later).
Despite seeming like a natural fit for this formation, one of Republic’s most versatile players, Octavio Guzman, was conspicuously left off the match day roster. This placed most of the attacking burden in the midfield onto Danny Barrera, and as such, it looked like Buckle’s game plan was to absorb pressure and play on the counter. When Barrera sent Cameron Iwasa through on goal for Republic’s goal in the 14th minute, it all seemed to be going according to plan.
However, when Sacramento conceded an equalizer from a penalty kick in the 21st minute, the game plan came undone. Republic was unable to find depth in their attacks, unsurprisingly, given the defensive posture of the team.
The 5-3-2 formation heavily relies on the fullbacks (in this case, Kiffe and Colvey) to act as wingbacks (wingers + fullbacks), working the full length of the pitch to support both the defense and offense. Yet, when Republic would gain possession, they would often opt to circulate the ball in the back first, inviting Vancouver to come in and pressure. By the time the ball made it to midfield, the stifling pressure from Vancouver would force Republic’s midfielders to play long balls and lose possession. Guzman’s ability to hold the ball well under pressure and find passing lanes was sorely missed.
Buckle tried to remedy the issue in the second half by bringing on Adam Jahn (52nd minute), Matt LaGrassa (60th minute), and Max Alvarez (78th minute), but instead of finding the winning goal, Republic conceded it in stoppage time.
2. Republic newcomer Jeremy Hall showed promise.
We knew Hall was a fan of Justin Bieber and the San Francisco 49ers, but we didn’t know how he’d perform in his first match wearing Old Glory Red. Despite playing out of his natural fullback position, Hall showed a lot of composure with the ball throughout the game, often finding ways to alleviate the pressure from Vancouver in midfield. His MLS experience was clearly visible and it’ll be interesting to see whether Buckle continues to play him in central midfield or brings him back into the defense as the temporary Klimenta-replacement we assumed he’d be.
3. Republic fans shouldn’t hit the panic button yet.
Yes, it’s true that Republic has been on a bad run, claiming just a single point from the last four games. And yes, some of these losses were extra painful because they happened in the dying moments of the game. However, the team has been in this situation before and turned it around. The last time we were talking about a similar run of bad results, Republic embarked on a nine-game unbeaten streak. For better or for worse, Republic is its own worst enemy, and as frustrating as that may be, it also means the team has the immediate power to react and overcome this bad stretch. Despite the recent losses, the Indomitable Club is still in playoff position and good results in the upcoming games against Rio Grande Valley FC and OKC Energy FC (the two teams on either side of Republic in the standings), will help ensure it remains that way.
What are your thoughts on last weekend’s match? Sound off in the comments below.