Skip to content

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

Jul 1, 2013, 10:45 PM EST

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Thierry Henry on Chelsea: “They live to defend”

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:20 PM EST

    Soccer - Capital One Cup - Final - Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Wembley Stadium AP

    One of the greatest strikers of all-time says it all starts on defense, something Chelsea proved today in their Capital One triumph.

  2. VIDEO: Premier League Goals of the Week — Round 27

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:09 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    It’s a battle between Liverpool super-strikes for the best goal of the week in the Premier League.

  3. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Draws for Real, Atletico; Salah shines for Fiorentina

    Mar 1, 2015, 8:15 PM EST

    Cristiano Ronaldo AP

    Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

  4. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 27

    Mar 1, 2015, 7:17 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Two goals silenced the critics and got this Manchester man named Premier League Player of the Week.

  5. Sunderland to appeal Wes Brown red card as officiating blunders continue

    Mar 1, 2015, 6:33 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Wes Brown was sent off in the Black Cats’ loss to Manchester United, despite the fact that John O’Shea seemingly committed the foul.

  6. WATCH: Wenger hails Arsenal’s “mentally determined performance”

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:46 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Coming off of an ugly midweek loss to Monaco, Arsenal responded perfectly with a 2-0 win over Everton.

  7. Stephen Ireland sidelined after vicious challenge from Maynor Figueroa

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    The Stoke City midfielder needed 12-15 stitches in his calf after taking a challenge that manager Mark Hughes said could have ended his career.

  8. Louis van Gaal says Angel di Maria is low on confidence

    Mar 1, 2015, 4:10 PM EST

    Soccer 2015: Manchester United vs. Burnley FEB 11 AP

    The Argentinian winger was subbed out at halftime of Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Sunderland.

  9. Jose Mourinho praises deputizing Kurt Zouma in League Cup win

    Mar 1, 2015, 3:20 PM EST

    Zouma AP

    Playing in front of the back four due to Nemanja Matic’s absence, the 20-year-old French defender stood out to his boss.

  10. Bas Dost, with two more goals today, is eating the Bundesliga alive

    Mar 1, 2015, 2:33 PM EST

    Dost Getty Images

    He score two more goals, continuing the ridiculous stretch for Europe’s most in-form striker.

  11. VIDEO: Fabian Johnson scores as Gladbach bounces back to win

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:52 PM EST

    Johnson AP

    The USMNT regular scored his first club goal in over two years as Borussia Monchengladbach bounced back from a midweek Europa League disappointment.

  12. VIDEO: Rodgers says Liverpool still very much in play for Top 4

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:12 PM EST

    Rodgers Getty Images

    The Liverpool manager was full of praise for his team after their high-energy performance against the defending champions.

  13. Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Mourinho’s boys win League Cup trophy

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:54 PM EST

    Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Capital One Cup Final Getty Images

    Mourinho wins first trophy of his second spell in charge of Chelsea.

  14. FOLLOW LIVE – Chelsea lead Tottenham at the break in League Cup final

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EST

    FBL-ENG-LCUP-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM FBL-ENG-LCUP-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM

    Chelsea have the upper hand, but can they see off Spurs at Wembley? Follow play-by-play, here.

  15. VIDEO: Pellegrini bemoans giveaways, “beautiful goals” in Liverpool loss

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:48 AM EST

    Pellegrini Getty Images

    The Manchester City boss gave props to Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho, but threw his own players under the bus for not being able to hold onto the ball.

  16. Watch Live: Documentary showcasing Arsenal’s “Invincibles”

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    Arsenal

    From 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, watch the “Invincibles” documentary live online.

  17. Arsenal 2-0 Everton: Giroud, Rosicky down toothless Toffees

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    Giroud Getty Images

    Olivier Giroud atoned for his misses midweek with the game’s only goal as Everton had little to offer.

  18. Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win vs. Manchester City

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:15 AM EST

    Liverpool v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    The Reds put in a stunning display, as City stumble yet again.

  19. VIDEO: Coutinho curler gives Manchester City nightmares again

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:01 AM EST

    Coutinho Getty Images

    Copycat! A repeat of Jordan Henderson’s earlier strike saw the Brazilian down Manchester City late again, reminiscent of last year’s match.

  20. Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City: Pair of Reds stunners stupefy City

    Mar 1, 2015, 8:51 AM EST

    Liverpool Getty Images

    Jordan Henderson opened things up with a fabulous strike, and Philippe Coutinho copied the script with the late winner.