The Rapids' beat writer, Chris Bianchi, got a few interesting comments from Oscar Pareja today regarding the tactical status of one Martin Rivero--the mercurial Argentine Wonderboy--and how he's going to play in the Rapids new system. I'll let Pareja speak for himself, then we'll go a little bit more in depth as to what all that means tactically.
"Martin came and dropped 10 or 15 yards more than usual [in 2012]," Pareja said on Wednesday. "We wanted him to build from the back, which was fine. We didn’t have the players that we wanted at that moment. Now, I think we have the solidness in the middle, and I think we can afford to have Martin a bit higher and produce more, create more assists, score. That’s the responsibility for the playmaker."
"Didn't have the players that we wanted at that moment" is an understatement, but should be understood here as "didn't have the players we wanted to play the style we wanted." You'll recall, in 2012 Pareja and the rest of the club from the fans all the way to the club President found out that the Rapids team we built last year wasn't the right one to get the job done that Pareja wanted. Sometimes, in those struggles between a new manager trying to inject youth and a new style (albeit with tactical naiveté) into a side which results in poor performances, the manger gets shown the door and a new one gets appointed who usually goes back to trying to get the players to playing the kind of football they are used to. That option is kind of what happened at Chelsea with that awkward moment with Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto DiMatteo. The Colorado Rapids, on the other hand, went in the other direction and decided to throw in their lot with the Manager.
The tactical bit to glean out of here is that Rivero had to drop "10 or 15 yards more than usual" that is to say "more than usual for the kind of playmaker that we want Martin Rivero to become." Remember, this is the guy who is supposed to be the Rapids new talisman, the guy who people come to see. Putting him in a position to succeed at what he does isn't just what they want to do from a tactical standpoint, but also from a business standpoint as well.
Rivero had to drop last year because tactically the team left a huge gap in the middle of the park that no one could quite fill. Jeff Larentowicz frequently had to come up the field and try to compress the game, which lead to big gaps between him and the back line, which then lead to goals especially for teams that were good at exploiting the counter attack (i.e. all of them). Tactically, that was a mistake. And Jaime Castrillon's midfield game, while it had the kind of off the ball movement that is light years ahead of most anyone else in Major League Soccer, wasn't enough to connect Larentowicz to Rivero. The transition from defending to attacking was clunky and confused.
Thus, Rivero had to drop back more into the middle third to communicate with Larentowicz to get the ball while Castrillon worked to get himself into good positions to receive the second pass from Rivero. Or it was the opposite, Castrillon would drop to get the pass from Larentowicz, and Rivero would come back to work a move out of the midfield. Either way, the move involving Rivero was too far back in the field for him to be properly called something like a "forward playmaker."
The key missing pieces for the "Rivero-as-Forward-Playmaker" scenario were two things: first, we needed a proper anchor man who can stay back and distribute without having to get too far up the pitch and massively widen the gap between himself and his back line. Larentowicz was not the guy for that, and it's not that he wasn't a skilled player; he simply didn't have the required set for that role. That and possibly the coaching staff didn't provide him with the proper instructions on the day. Probably a combination of both.
REGARDLESS, now we have Hendry Thomas as our deep-lying distributor and anchor of the midfield. A huge improvement over Larentowicz in terms of skill in the tackle and in long-ball service. While Larentowicz provided a rifle-shot on set-pieces, what you get in Thomas is worth the trade off. So that piece is in place. Other guys who can fill this role are Pablo Mastroeni and Nathan Sturgis.
Second, we need a proper "Transitional" midfielder in the vein of a box-to-box mid, who can make a smooth transition from defense to attack. This is Dillon Powers. Or at least, he's the guy who makes the 11. Powers has the kind of command of the field and the vision to start an attacking move that is required by someone in that position. While Castrillon would be trying to make moves on his own, Powers is a team-player first. Powers, and guys who get into that transitional role, need to be thinking about where to make that first pass to start the move, rather than trying to work himself into good space.
This both is a tactical and personel shift. If Castrillon can play that role, he's going to have to change his game from being the guy who finishes a move to being the guy who starts it. That may not be the kind of player he is so we will have to see how he works his way back in.
The "solidness" in the middle means that we now have the ability to make that smooth transition from winning the ball and starting the attacking move without RIvero having to drop.
I don't know if Pareja is having a laugh here but... OK here's another quote from him.
"I’d say people would call him a nine-and-a-half, some others [call] him the forward who is linking the other two wingers," Pareja said. "I’d just say that he is a playmaker that has to have an offensive mind. I would like to grow him there."
"A Nine-and-a-half"? What?
What Pareja, I think, is getting at is that Martin is a "Forward Playmaker" which means he creates offensive moves from within the attacking third of the field. This is different than someone like Dillon Powers who creates a move from the middle, and Thomas who creates a move from deep in the field with a long pass.
We've made a lot of Pareja's "Spine" midfield, which is different from the rather loose midfield that he had last season. You'll really see it if you get a heat-map of the players' positions when it happens. Each of the three mids have what I call "circles of influence" where you see them most. Thomas at the top of the defending third into the middle third, Powers from the middle third to the attacking third, and Rivero from the attacking third to the goal.
That's the idea, anyway.
Let's see how it works out.