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The Daily Wave: It Has Gotta Be the Formation

Do soccer formations matter? Do the Rapids personnel naturally fit into one formation better than others?

Jeff Vinnick

"I will do whatever it takes to win a football match." - Stuart Pearce

Soccer is a crazy game. This past weekend's match was proof of that and once again bookings were at the center of the Rapids win. Down a goal and trying to get in sync, a red card was issued to Vancouver's Matias Laba, and suddenly the Rapids offensive flood gates opened. Jose Mari, with a beautiful left footed goal that should win goal of the week awards, evened the match in the 79th minute. Two minutes later on his other foot, Jose Mari again scored and the Rapids secured their first victory away from home.

Praise should also go to goal keeper, Clint Irwin, as without some stellar saves and blocks (Clint Freakin' Irwin #CFI), the Rapids would have been in such a hole that even playing with a man up, the likelihood of victory would have been slim. It was nice to see the goalie eat up balls like wolfing down his favorite Chipotle burrito.

Of concern was that for 77 minutes, before the Red Card was issued, the Rapids looked lost. Although the lineup was missing several key pieces and some players were playing out of position (Powers on a flank and not center?). Finally it was concerning that our DP had one shot on goal bringing his season total to one shot on goal! With four matches in the book, Rapids have to do better than this.

Which brings me to the topic of the week - formations. Some history and discussion can be found here and here on how formations can decide the flow of a match. Essentially much like the age old question, which came first the chicken or the egg, are formations formed by current personnel and their skill sets or are personnel picked to play in a manager's system. The Rapids decided with the firing of Gary Smith that they would invoke a forward attacking system of soccer. Their draft and acquisition of players have fit this style. Thus, much like a puzzle piece, the Rapids need to find a system that will use the parts we have to dominate matches. Through the first four games, I believe Pablo is working on this very problem.

Table below shows the predominant formations used last year and through the first four matches this year. The table also shows some relevant statistics from the games the where the formation was used.

Formation Match Pts/Match Shot Ratio GD Posssession
4-3-3 10 0.89 1.04 -1 45.8%
4-1-2-1-2 8 1.67 1.27 2 48.9%
4-2-3-1 20 1.68 1.19 6 51.2%

The 4-1-2-1-2 or Diamond could be the formation of the future. Allowing Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres to roam at the top is intriguing. This formation was used in Vancouver but due to the turf, key players were out. The primary formation the Rapids have used is the 4-2-3-1. This formation succeeds partly due to Edson Buddle being the key at the top and having Brown and Torres (Abita Harris anyone?) on the wings highlights why this formation has been dominant. The data above would suggest this formation has worked the best. And finally, the 4-3-3 should be buried and forgotten about.

In my opinion, formations are convenient talking points for aficionados to put teams in different baskets. Every team in the Premier League has gone to the "X-Y-Z" and we know great teams like Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona run "A-B-C". It sort of becomes a gimmick. A team will come out with a formation, dominate, as if the formation was the key, thus making other teams want to copy it, leading to no advantage at all.

I believe ultimately that coaches need to take stock in what player personnel they have and tailor a formation to them not the other way around. Players, I think, are more comfortable in a plot of the pitch versus some strict guidance from a formation. Players are slotted but they understand the flow of the game. Players probably could care less what the formation is. The flow of the game and movement of the ball ultimately decides where on the pitch a player will most be effective. In addition, teams that dictate this ball movement decide the formation. Much like chess I believe the importance of dictating the action versus being reactive is what makes a great soccer team. Dictating the terms should decide the victor.

Thus, the quote of the week. The Rapids, regardless of some fancy football formation, need to do whatever it takes to win the match.