Formation situation

Carlos de los Cobos

Nearly every single soccer team I have ever played for used one standard formation -- the 4-4-2. The 4-4-2, which the Fire used for the majority of last season, is quite possibly the most common formation in the whole sport. And really, it's no wonder that it is so popular. It's simple, allows for a solid balance between attacking and defense and allows managers to easily interchange players. It's a safe move for a manager to implement and for teams with little time spent training together -- like a youth team -- it's probably the most effective.

But can something as simple as the 4-4-2 work for a professional team like the Fire? Well, yes. But the real question is will that formation allow the Fire to best fulfill their potential on the field in 2010? Well, no. Given the Fire's personnel -- and their new commitment to playing attacking, free-flowing soccer -- the team is far better suited to playing in something like a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 than a 4-4-2. A formation like a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 would most easily allow the Fire to build up comprehensively through quick passing through the midfield/forwards -- something that they've been expressing their desire to do all offseason.

Personally, I prefer the 4-3-3 to the 3-5-2 (and yes, I know I bashed any formation with a three man backline last week. That was probably a bit rash...). If done correctly, the 4-3-3 provides solid defensive cover both up the middle and on the wings, allows the forwards to play with the ball at their feet, and gives midfielders readily available options to distribute up the middle and to the wings.

If the Fire is to use a 4-3-3 in 2010, it could look a little something like this...






Pause would be in his familiar role of center defensive midfielder, while Thorrington and Pappa would be responsible for distributing to the three forwards and making runs at defenders. I have Pappa paired with John on the left and Thorrington and Nyarko on the right because their ability to play on the wing nicely complements Thorrington and John's tendency to play a more central role. McBride would play in the middle, where he could put his skills as a target forward -- holding the ball up and winning headers -- to excellent use. The back four's duties wouldn't really change much from last year in this formation. However, the outside backs (in this case Tim Ward and Krzysztof Krol) would need to be slightly more alert to runs down the wing.

I've offered my take. For now, I'm all about the 4-3-3. But I'm interested in seeing what your formation preference is. So, with that, I'll leave you with a little poll question. Vote away! This is Chicago after all...


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  • I feel like the wingers need to be able to deliver a cross in a 4-3-3. Nyarko cannot do that to save his life. IMO, he is severely lacking in technique and doesnt really have the tool set to be a winger in this formation. I feel he is more of a striker in a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. If Bone can live up to his potential than it would be nice to see him where you have Pappa and then Pappa on the left and John on the right.


    Depending on Bone's ability as an outside mid, this group of players could play a 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-4-2. I also wouldnt mind seeing a 3-5-2 either.


  • I think everyone is missing out on one key variable. Yes the 4-3-3 will be the most effective attacking formation we can use.

    However, the only change to the Sam's lineup is julio Martinez will replace either Thorrington or Pause. Both Thor and Pause can play the same holding mifielder position. I think Thor might have the edge on Pause because of his aggression on tackles. There is no way Cobos is not going to start a very good attacking midfielder that he himself requested to bring in. Martinez starts for what looked like a very quick paced attacking El salvadorian team. He is also 24 and ready to shine for the Fire and cobos knows that. Keep in mind that Martinez can also defend in the midfield as well.

    With the personnel we have right now. Mapp, Bone, and either Pause/Thor will not start on this team. I just don't see it happening. A choice between Pause and Thor will happen. There is no way Martinez won't start, someone will lose their starting spot. Remember Hamlett is gone, the 2 def mid idea might be gone as well. We should be excited about that. I personally would rather have Thorrington in there. He plays with a grit and passion that we want in the middle.

  • In reply to jking:

    I knew I was forgetting someone. Can he play in the middle? Martinez that is. I was under the impression that he was an outside/attacking mid. But you cant really play a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 without 2 defensive minded players in the middle. I think Thorrington and Pause can play together just fine. Pause will allow Thorrington to be more free to distribute and not worry SO much about defense as he had to with Blanco on the field. Who would start in place of either Pause or Thorrington on this team right now? What lineup would you use?

  • In reply to jking:

    From what I understand (very little) the 4-3-3 relies heavily on the quality of its wingers, and to a lesser extent outside forwards for defensive cover. It'd probably take a lot of time to adjust to that formation. Not to say that it couldn't be done, but I'd guess that a majority of players on the Fire have not played much in a 4-3-3.

  • In reply to jking:

    McBride/John is all we need up top if the chemistry from 2004 is still there. so 4-4-2 would be deadley

  • In reply to jking:

    I agree with milicz in principle, though I would replace Mapp with Pause in terms of production. I have never like the whole 4-4-2 description, and didn't actually learn it until I moved to Chicago 13 years ago. Previously I had always played in a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2, but like I said, these number descriptions are limited. Is that a flat four or a diamond four? So many players don't fit into these rigid holes, which seem more appropriate to gridiron football than to soccer. Raul, for example, often plays just under the target striker. I'd rather see that described as a #-#-1-1 than lumping him with #-#-2. Temo roamed all over the attacking third, playing as a floating midfielder-forward.

    Given this, we're just going to have to see how it works out on the pitch (which is a statement that I nominate for Profound Statement of the Year). If Krol is more of a Roberto Carlos type player, we're likely going to need to go with a flat back four so that someone stays home to cover for him while he goes up. You can't have him and Mapp playing on the same wing as Mapp won't cover well for him. If Martinez and the other wing midfielder or Krol can hit good crosses, our forwards will be provided with service and it takes away from needing a 10 in the middle. That said, I'd hope and expect that de los Cobos will look at Thorrington, Husidic, and Bone in that #10 type role in practice. If one works out, that would be great. I just don't think we know enough about Krol and Martinez to figure out the best formation, yet.

  • In reply to jking:

    Playing attacking football doesn't mean abandoning the defensive side of the game. I think we can play a very fluid, attacking game an still run out of a 4-4-2. If we have Krol and Ward as outside backs, both seem like players who are willing to be get forward and contribute in attack. I don't know enough about Krol to be sure, but I don't have enough faith in him or Ward defensively to trust them in a 3-man back line without 2 wingbacks or defensive midfielders to help out. I know Ward is a strong player going forward, and it seems like Krol is as well. You're wasting that ability if you play them in a back 3.

    With Krol and Ward willing to get up and down the wings, you can play them with 2 central defenders and a box-to-box or holding mid (Thorrington or Pause) and have a solid 5 man defensive unit with plenty of firepower to get forward. I imagine a fat back 4,a defesive/holding mid, two outside mids who can cut inside and give our fullbacks space to get up the wing, and attacking mid like Bone/Husidic/Thorrington who will focus on attack but still defend more than Blaco, and then McBride and John up top.

  • In reply to jking:

    I think the 4-3-3 would be the best choice for the team. It would actually make the team deeper, with only three mids playing every game. The 4-3-3 used by the Fire would need to have the central midfielder be playing a very traditional box-to-box role. The outside midfielders' most important trait would be good through passes to set up the two outside forwards. Brian McBride is the best finisher on the team and would be the best choice for striker. This formation would definitely work for the Fire. I think that we should play John, McBride, and Martinez as our front 3. Nyarko has loads of raw talent, but I'd rather he was a twelth man backing up 35+ McBride. when McBride is subbed off for Nyarko, John would be moved into the target position. Nyarko lacks the size to play in the middle and his speed fits him into the outside very well.

  • In reply to jking:

    Lots of people talk about McBride's ability as a target forward, holding up play, winning balls in the air.

    I honestly, and I'm not joking, can't remember a single time in the last 1.5 years that McBride controlled a ball that came to him in the air with a defender on his back, held up play, and then distributed.

    He is really poor at receiving the ball on the ground with his back to goal while being defended too.

    All that's left is winning balls in the air. He didn't do that either. Normally he's getting pushed or grabbed or whatever, but what would the actual % be? Maybe 5% of 50/50 long balls to McBride end up getting won by him and going to a fire player?

    McBride is well know, he's pretty big, and he's known for scoring goals with his head. But I don't think any of that translates to being a good target forward.

    Just my 2 cents. Jozy Altidore makes more "target forward" plays like this in 1 half of an EPL game than McBrdie does all year for the Fire. I don't think he can do that role.

  • You have to fit the following players in a starting 11:
    Conde, Ward, Krol, Pappa, Mapp, Martinez, Thorrington, McBride and John. Those are your highest skilled players, you fit the formation to fit your talent, I see the 3-5-2 as the only solution to that quandary.

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