Trashing the 4-3-3 was positively de rigueur last year along some media outposts, “in” like the iPad 3.
The 4-3-3 just won’t work in MLS! It was painted like a tuxedo and tails; it’s a good look, but you have to be in the right place to pull it off – and Major League Soccer just wasn’t the right place.
Or so the theory went.
Personally, I never bought it. Because the primary base of doubt was always Toronto FC.
I think we can all agree that Toronto has been anywhere from “average” to “bad” to “spectacularly inept” in a vast number of different formations over the years. The 4-3-3? Yeah, the bunch from BMO can stink in that one, too.
And yet, the formation itself was somehow a goat – never mind that Sporting Kansas City was rowing along nicely in a 4-3-3.
Then came Jurgen Klinsmann and his desire to merge the U.S. national team into a more aggressive period. A 4-3-3 formation could be part of it, he said.
Then Caleb Porter added to the tactical-talking skirmish by rolling 4-3-3 with his under-23s. So when the U.S. bid crashed on the CONCACAF rocks, the 4-3-3 detractors yelled “Aha! What did we tell you?”
Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City is setting league records. Others have embraced the 4-3-3, or its slightly more conservative cousin, the 4-2-3-1. (Same thing, really, but the central triangle is inverted, with two holding midfielders and one creator playing ahead of them.)
Vancouver and Colorado are rocking a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Jay Heaps hoped to lean in that direction but had to shelve the plans (at least temporarily) when his best passer, Benny Feilhaber, went on the injury shelf.
Bottom line: the best formation is usually one that works for the personnel on hand, an arrangement that best suits the individual strengths of the highest number of players.
But as long as we’re talking about the 4-3-3, let’s hear from a guy who knows what’s what on the Dutch-rooted scheme. That’s John O’Brien, the Californian who left as a teenager to go learn the Ajax way in the Netherlands.
He talked to Soccer America veteran scribe Ridge Mahoney about the kind of players who fit into the 4-3-3. It’s an interesting read, not just for the tactical talk, but for catching up on the man whose career was chopped down way too soon by injury.