So the 4-3-3 works afterall; What do ya know about that?


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.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)