When Real Salt Lake switch formations, we have to talk about it (a little)

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source:  No Major League Soccer team has become as synonymous with their formation as Real Salt Lake, yet Saturday at BMO Field, Jason Kreis temporarily abandoned his 4-3-1-2 (or, 4-4-2, diamond). Against a Toronto side that’s playing Ryan Richter and Darren O’Dea at fullbacks, the Real Salt Lake boss took the opportunity to try a 4-3-3 formation. The result was more typical than glamorous, Real Salt Lake grinding out a 1-0 win in Ontario.

Let’s leave aside the fact that TFC could have easily tied this late. Let’s talk about an experience that only comes along once every couple of years. With Luis Gil just coming back from Turkey and Ned Grabavoy getting a well-deserved reprieve (the under-appreciated midfielder was held out of the starting XI), Kreis deployed a midfield triangle with Kyle Beckerman and Yordany Alvarez at its base, Javier Morales at its top. Joao Plata (left) and Olmes García flanked Devon Sandoval up top.

Against a team that plays as conservatively as Toronto, it’s difficult to draw any broad conclusions about how the setup work. RSL survived the day, which is probably all Kreis wanted to do, but with few other teams across Major League Soccer likely to replicate Ryan Nelsen’s tactics, it’s hard to determine the extent to which a 4-3-3 would otherwise work for RSL.

The one obvious benefit would be getting the likes of Plata and García into the lineup. Along with Sandoval, Alvaro Saborío, and Robbie Findley, the duo help make up a one of the deepest forward corps in Major League Soccer. It doesn’t take a managerial genius to know finding room for talented players is a good thing, though with the depth of RSL’s midfield (Morales, Gil, Grabavoy, Beckerman), it’s unclear playing more 4-3-3 wouldn’t require benching a more talented player.

In addition to choosing the right talent, a coach has to maximize the output of the players he picks, and it’s unclear keeping a player like Kyle Beckerman as a part of a double pivot would leverage the all-star’s virtues. Part of the brilliance of a Beckerman is the fact that you don’t need two holders. He can do the job of two men, allowing you to commit another player higher up the field. Why have somebody play beside Kyle Beckerman when you could just have Kyle Beckerman?

If RSL were to use a 4-3-3 more often, it would make more sense to use Grabavoy or Gil as a shuttler and abandon the two holders, particularly with Javi Morales occupying the other midfield role. For the unmatched talent Morales has on the ball, he’s a defensive liability, and only against teams like Toronto can you play Morales above two holders without ceding the middle of the park.

Back up top, as Plata’s speed was drawing fouls from Richter, you saw an advantage that went beyond merely getting another player on the field. It’s one of the luxuries you have when strikers like Saborio and Sandoval are capable of occupying a central defense and a talent like García can occupy a spot wide.

If Kreis can use a formation change to create those kind of matchups, a three-front at least offers a late match option, if not a starting choice against teams whose fullbacks profile like Toronto’s. While we didn’t get any conclusive evidence of the setup’s long-term viability, RSL’s depth up top may make another try worthwhile.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.