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Why a formation change is what Sacramento Republic FC needs

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Republic FC will need to score more goals if they are to win their second USL title

Joe de Ocampo/Indomitable City Soccer

Wilson Kneeshaw collected a poor clearance from Reno 1868 FC defender Thomas Janjigia at the top of the box, made a move to get the ball onto his preferred right foot and buried a low show shot to give Republic FC a two goal lead in the 60th minute on August 25 at Greater Nevada Field. Kneeshaw’s goal was a big moment in his tumultuous season, but it could be a bigger goal for Sacramento’s season.

Sacramento has struggled offensively this season. The team has continued to play stout defense though — something that the club is notorious for over the years. We can credit that to good players, coaching with a clear defensive focus, and of course, the dominating home crowd. This year the team sits at 29 goals against, which puts them one off from the best defensive record in the Western Conference. The team has given up a couple inopportune goals this year but overall, we have another top tier defense in the league.

However, the offense is where the team struggles in comparison. Republic FC is the lowest scoring team when you look at current Western Conference playoff teams. Below is the top eight team’s goals scored as of August 31:

Real Monarchs – 46

Phoenix Rising – 53

Orange County – 52

Sacramento Republic – 33

Portland Timbers II – 48

Reno 1868 – 40

Swope Park – 38

St. Louis FC – 35

I think the team will need to improve their offensive output to be a serious title contender or to at least win a couple playoff games. The good news is that Manager Simon Elliott adjusted his formation at Reno and it may be what the team needs moving forward.

Republic FC has been playing a 4-2-3-1 or a four in the back, five in the midfield and one up top formation for most of the season. This style is the most common approach in the modern game. However, across the soccer landscape we are seeing teams go to more three in the back systems. Recognizing a need for a fresh idea to liven up the approach, Elliott went with this lineup against Reno.

I think this formation suits our personnel much better. Let’s break it down.

First and foremost, Iwasa playing in an attacking midfield or false nine role fits him perfectly. It is always a good idea to play a style that allows your best player to thrive. He has a knack for scoring and play-making. This recessed role allows him to pick and choose his runs and gives him artistic freedom to roam in the attacking third as he pleases. He scored in the game as he got on the end of a great cross into the box from Mitchell Taintor. This showed that although playing underneath two strikers, he can still make those darting back post runs and get on the end of crosses.

Villyan Bijev and Kneeshaw also benefit. Bijev has lower defensive responsibilities and that is a good thing for our creative forward. There have been games where he has tired from playing end to end. Not in this role. He can focus his energy on creating chances here. Kneeshaw is not an outside midfielder. He is a striker. This formation lets him do what he does best and that is be a nuisance to defenders with his speed and quickness. He showed that on his goal as he picked up a loose ball in the middle of the pitch instead of being wasted on the touchline.

Playing three in the back lets Elliott Hord and Shannon Gomez to get higher up the pitch and attack opposing wingers. Both of these players are stout defenders who excel in creating turnovers and quickly feeding the ball up the field. Gomez even made a run into the box on Kneeshaw’s goal which occupied a defender and allowed him to be free at the top of the box.

The central midfielders that Republic FC have are good players but none of them are true attacking midfielders. I think the biggest problem with the 4-2-3-1 and this squad is that although Jamie Villareal, Hayden Partain and Adam Moffat are strong box to box players, none of them are true number 10’s. Letting them play in true central midfield roles is more natural to their abilities.

Finally, our back line. Jeremy Hall is a dynamic player who excels in winning balls and distributing from deep lying positions. Placing him in the middle of that back three plays to his strengths. Taintor and Emrah Klimenta are two defenders who also can spray balls all over the pitch. This back three is not only strong at defending but also top tier in their long passing abilities. We already know about Klimenta as a play maker.

Watching Elliott mix it up was a breath of fresh air. I think that this formation gives the team the best chance to score more goals and ultimately to win games against the top clubs in the West.

Real Monarchs, Phoenix Rising and Orange County all pose serious offensive firepower and the Republic must be able to score more to give them the best chance at bringing home the cup this year.