Coach Paul Buckle found himself in a tough position; winless in 6 games, and no goals to show either. Despite the wealth of attacking talent available, no combination of players could crack the code. Something bold was needed, and Buckle delivered.
A new formation referred to as a 3-5-2 was unveiled a few weeks ago in the second half of Republic’s loss to Real Monarchs. Although the formation switch was unable to salvage the game against Real Monarchs, it proved effective in later games. Against US Open Cup opponents FC Anhuac it produced four goals, and against USL side Tulsa Roughnecks, Republic put in three. This article will give some initial impressions of the change and more in depth analysis will follow.
The new formation features three center backs, five midfielders, and two strikers. Emrah Klimenta has moved into a center back role following his injury last year, and his skills as a powerful, talented right-back aid the defense greatly.
Formerly fullbacks in Republic’s old 4-4-1-1 formation, James Kiffe and Elliot Hord are wingbacks in the new one, effectively the widest of the midfield five. Although the pair has always been found high up the pitch, that role is now exaggerated. The two can threaten defenses by providing width and attacking up the wings.
However, by being so far up the pitch, they leave space exposed behind them. This space is perfect ground for opponents to launch counter attacks into, drawing one of our three center-backs wide.
The positives and negatives of this were both on display last weekend against Tulsa. Miscommunication between Hord and Klimenta on the exposed flank led to a good chance and great finish from Joey Calistri.
Perfectly illustrating the positives of the positional change, Republic later took the lead after a wide-open Hord put in a great cross to a wide-open Kiffe on the opposite post, who laid in an easy assist for Samuel Ochoa.
The central midfield trio of Hall, Cazarez, and Barrera forms a shifting triangle that allows for excellent combination passing in the middle of the pitch.
Cazarez’s play in particular has changed and been quite impressive. His distribution is now much more positive, looking to send passes on the ground up to the strikers rather than only playing safe back passes to the center backs. He still is tasked with defensive work alongside Hall, and the two provide a shield in front of the three backs. That allows for the outside backs, Klimenta and Chris Christian, to move wide when Kiffe and Hord are upfield, as now the midfield pair can drop into the exposed channels.
Danny Barrera’s free role is, well, even more free. He can ghost in behind the strikers with added confidence having 5 players behind him. Indeed, against Tulsa, he popped up at the top of box and scored the first goal for Republic in over 500 minutes.
The strike duo in this system works much the same as before. Republic has gathered a group of intelligent, creative strikers who link-up well together. This allows for complex movement with forwards dropping deep and roaming wide, dragging defenders out of position. The strikers no longer chase long passes across the field. Instead, passes from midfield are coming directly to their feet in central, dangerous positions.
The formation switch has been positive so far. In my opinion the scoreline against Tulsa made the game seem closer than it was. Republic played aggressive, possession oriented soccer with an attacking mindset. This tactical switch is exciting and it will be interesting to see how the team deals with Klimenta’s absence over the international break. It is my hope that they stick with the change and work on gaining further cohesion in the new shape. Although some issues need to be worked out, especially communication between wide midfielders and center backs, Buckle has proven to be good at coaching a tight defense. Now that goals seem to be flowing again, Republic should be headed up the table where they belong.