If you want to be a true soccer snob, one of the first things you need to do is read Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book “Inverting the Pyramid”. From there, you can lecture your friends about trequartistas and double pivots, but more importantly it allows you to act like you know what you are talking about when you bring up formations. 4-4-2? “That’s so blasé.” 4-3-3? “What are we, Barcelona?” 3-5-2? “Not with our wing-backs.” You never knew numbers could be so pretentious.
So let’s talk about FC Cincinnati’s last game against Bethlehem Steel. Alan Koch’s men set out in a 4-3-3. In fact the formation was even announced from the team’s Twitter account. When I first saw this, I was convinced it was someone taking a guess based on the lineup that was announced, no way would we try a 4-3-3 without a proper striker. But sure enough we saw a formation where Daryl Fordyce was sent to the right of the midfield with Corbin Bone on the left and Kenney Walker holding down the middle. And in front of the midfield, a front three consisting of Dacres on the left, McLaughlin on the right, and Wiedeman up top. We’ve talked about consistency before on this blog, and changing formations and tactics, along with personnel, is going to catch up with a team eventually. On Saturday, it did.
So we have Walker, who has been FCC's defensive midfielder for two years, being asked to play the role of a box-to-box mid-fielder. Fordyce, who is a striker, being asked to play out wide in the mid-field. And Bone who is a central mid-fielder, out wide. Then there is our winger, Wiedeman, who was asked to play striker. That’s four of your attacking players out of position, in the first game without your leading goal scorer.
I do not want to be too critical of Coach Koch here, he has infinitely more coaching experience that I do and sees these players every day in training. But for the life of me, I cannot understand how this lineup made sense. The right midfielder being a striker is just asking for disaster.
And the stats point to it being a disaster. In the full 90 minutes, Opta’s data shows that not a single chance was created from the right side of the field by any midfielder or attacker. Not a single cross or pass making its way from the right side of the field into a shooting opportunity. Ouch. Then when you look at the average position of the players, you can see where the breakdown happened. Fordyce’s average position ended up being a bit ahead of Dacres, the attacking midfielder. And Bahner, the right full-back, actually ended up right next to Dacres too. So the right back is up with the attacker, and the mid-fielder is ahead of both of them. Is it any wonder that Bethlehem’s goal came off a corner created by a breakdown of defensive shape on the right side? This is, hopefully, what the team is being drilled on this week.
As for the goal in this game, it was a complete mental collapse by the defense, a unit that played so well all game up to that moment in the 85th minute.
The goal starts with a bad Delbridge clearance that sends the ball 20 yards down the field in the wrong direction, going out for a corner. It would have been just as easy to send the ball out on the touchline, but instead the ball, lazily, scoots down to go out for a Bethlehem corner.
Bethlehem takes the corner short, passing it up the field where it is then crossed into the box. The FCC defender on the ball doesn’t close down in time to prevent the cross, or even contest it. When the cross comes in there is one player in front of the back post completely unmarked. Amazingly however, this is not the player that ends up scoring. The cross comes in shorter, but had it gone long it would have been an extremely easy goal for Bethlehem.
Unfortunately due to the quality of the Stream on YouTube, I cannot make out the numbers, but two FCC defenders are tussling with Bethlehem players in front of goal, only to have them both beat the defender to the ball. For all that tussling, neither defender is able to get in front of their man. There are also two additional FCC defenders who stuck in no-man’s land, just in front of the tussling Bethlehem players in the box. One defender makes a half-hearted attempt to jump to the ball, realizing they are way out of position, and it goes about two feet over their head.
Mitch does himself no favors by not making a decision. He is caught off his line, but doesn’t challenge for the ball. In the end, he is out of position and the ball goes right past him. This is not to put all the blame on Mitch, I think this ball is going in if he stays on his line and I don’t think he would have gotten to the ball if he committed to the challenge. But I trust Mitch’s ability enough to have risked him staying on the line and having a chance at stopping the ball.
Now, as the meme went around the internet, Bethlehem’s best player on Saturday was probably the goal posts. If a few shots were a few inches higher or lower, left or right, FCC wins this game 3-1 and nobody bats an eye. That’s the beautiful game, the best team doesn’t always win. And sure, there was another red card in this game that brings the season total to a total that’s best not to think about. But the good news is FC Cincinnati has the players to make this work. So long as they finish their chances, stay resolute on defense, and are given a system and lineup that stays as consistent as possible.
On to Richmond.