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Whether I’m meeting with coaches to break down the youth club’s weekend performance, looking back on a historic meltdown in one of my weeknight adult leagues, or analyzing the latest Champions League match, formation plays a prominent part in my daily soccer discussion. I have always believed that special players will find a way to win games regardless of the formation or the coach, but when a system is tailored specifically to showcase the skill set of each player while masking their weaknesses, the whole team can benefit...
There are currently 22 players on the Union roster, though the transfer window will remain open until April 15 (reopening July 15 - August 14) and trades/discovery signings can happen through September 15. Roster guidelines allow teams to run with as few as 26 players without being penalized - they can leave 2 senior roster spots and 2 off-budget spots vacant before facing the roster-budget fee - but I would expect a squad of 28-30 players by the time everything has fallen into place.
Working only with players on the official Union roster, I feel this is the strongest line-up/formation:
Building from the back, there is no question Mondragon will start in net and Holder will be the backup. The Union will benefit greatly from the stability provided by a goalkeeper that commands the box. MacMath will see plenty of work in friendlies, the reserve league, and competitive matches with the US U-20 National Team. Zac should head down to Guatemala for the CONCACAF Championship in a couple of weeks (March 29-April 10), and if all goes well, he'll be between the sticks in Colombia for the U-20 World Cup (July 29-August 20).
This part of the roster is sure to grow over the next few weeks. Califf and Valdes will be a solid tandem in central defense, which should provide Harvey (or the yet-to-be-seen player likely to come in to challenge for minutes) some wiggle room on the left flank. The strong central pairing will also allow the speedy Williams additional freedom and coverage needed to flow freely up and down the right wing. This will look like a back four on the defensive side of the ball, but it would be more of a back three while on the attack.
If they are truly building a team formation on its strengths, the Union should run with two holding/defensive midfielders. Miglioranzi and Carroll will provide composure on the ball, veteran leadership, and extra cover needed for the wing backs to recover after a run up the flank. Okugo can make a case for minutes as the season progresses, but he also has a very good chance to spend time in Guatemala and Colombia with the U-20's over the next few months. While they start every game for me on FIFA 11, I see Torres and Nakazawa coming off the bench for one of the defensive midfielders when there is a need for a late-game offensive push.
The wing midfielders are where I think the Union need to get creative. I would deploy Mapp on the left and Le Toux on the right. Knowing that Williams will look to push up the right side, I would slide the defensive midfielders in that direction, and push Le Toux into a more central location beneath the forwards. This flexibility is made possible by his tireless work-rate and honest defending.
While I certainly have concerns about how the Ruiz experiment will play out, he will absolutely draw attention away from last year's top scorers. He can hold the ball, draw fouls (sigh…), and in some cases command a double-team - all of which will pull a substantial amount of pressure away from Mwanga while allowing Le Toux to slide in and out of the withdrawn forward / attacking midfielder / right wing midfielder role.
So now it's your turn - how would you line 'em up? 4-3-3 Barca-style? 3-5-2 like Nowak ran in DC? The dreaded 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation? Share your thoughts below!