Hello and welcome to my inaugural post on Indomitable City Soccer! The purpose of this column is to provide an opinion on the tactical development of Sacramento Republic throughout the season. I hope to bring you a weekly examination of the previous week's game, while also keeping track of season-long trends.
This column will evolve throughout the season, as my skills grow and more data becomes available. Feedback and civil debate are welcome as we explore the how and why of that happens out on the pitch.
Today's analysis will look at last weekend's match against FC Cincinnati. While it is still early in pre-season, I believe a fair tactical assessment of Sacramento Republic can still be made. Today’s article will be covering three things: the current state of the team's tactics, a look at some individual roles and performances, and what may be needed before the season begins.
1. This is Buckle's team.
From player selection to formation — though not necessarily in personnel — this team looked much like the one we saw throughout most of last season; a clear 4-4-1-1 formation, fullbacks pushing up high for width, dominant possession in midfield, and low defensive pressure with an eye towards breaking fast. Paul Buckle has developed a defined system and seems to be sticking to it this year.
There were echoes of last season throughout Saturday’s game. Wide midfielders tucked inside to control possession, flying wing-backs overlapped, and long passes were sent from the back searching for forwards as soon as possession was won. That strategy was relatively successful last season, but all the possession and chance creation it provided led to fewer goals scored than desired.
This off-season, Buckle and Graham Smith brought in several strikers to remedy last year’s goal scoring woes, but have there been any tactical changes to help the strikers get better service?
It is a bit early to tell, but evidence so far suggests yes. The midfield delivered more through-balls on the ground on Saturday, rather then the hopeless long-balls over the opposing back line we saw often last year. Service from out wide seemed more deliberate as well, with less crossing for crossing's sake. These developments are positive, and point to signs that the coaching staff has identified tactical issues and are attempting to remedy them.
2. Highlight-worthy individual performances.
Saturday’s game included some impressive performances from individual Republic players. I want to highlight those standout performances and say what I believe it means for the overall strategy of the squad.
Both full-backs, Elliott Hord and James Kiffe, were fantastic at linking with the wide midfielder in front of them (Danny Barrera and Tyler Blackwood, respectively). Barrera and Hord in particular were effective in overlapping time after time down the right flank. This allowed Hord to deliver several great crosses into the box from threatening,wide open positions on the outside of the 18.
Blackwood looked good in his role, staying along the touchline for much of the game and offering a pacy option for Kiffe to link up with. That width and pace draws the opposing midfielder and fullback, opening space for Kiffe to cut inside for a look at goal.
In the center of the pitch, Hall and Moffat were are a particularly effective paring. The duo screened Republic's vulnerable center backs, clogged up passing lanes and made tackles all over the pitch. An area that Republic needed to improve on last year was distribution from center midfield, and Moffat seems to offer the threat of long, vertical, on the ground passes. The ability to beak lines of defense from midfield is another arrow in Buckle's growing quiver.
3. The Near-term Future.
With the combination of some positive off-season personnel additions and tactical improvements from the coaching staff, the Republic’s future looks bright. However, there is one spot on the pitch that looks rather bleak at this point, and that is center back.
We have seen over the past season and half that Buckle likes his team to build from the back. This style is dependent on confident, ball playing center backs who are comfortable under pressure and can deliver accurate long-range passes. These are not easy skills to find. It is possible that Buckle could change his strategy, looking to build from the goal keeper, or having one of the center midfielders drop into the back line to start the attack.
Fortunately for SRFC fans, Buckle and Graham have shown the ability to find great players on short notice. Hopefully they can work their magic again and unearth some good talent to pair in defense. Judging from Buckle’s post-game comments, they’re certainly trying.
With the exception of that center back issue, Republic looks to be going into this season with a strong, deep squad that will look to dominate possession and play attractive, positive soccer that pleases discerning fans and pays dividends on the score-sheet.
What are your thoughts on the last Saturday’s game? Any individual performances you think are worthy of highlights? Can you play center back? Sound off in the comments below!