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Playing Within Your Game: Chivas USA and the Risks of Longball

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Erick "El Cubo" Torres saw his scoring streak halted at two following this weekend's loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Have teams figured out how to to stop him?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For a team struggling to make the playoffs, Chivas USA did the San Jose Earthquakes' defense a great favor. The team's impatience (for lack of a better word) took them out of the game, resulting in a scant four attempts at goal.

Golazo!, the stats engine provided by MLS, shows an absolute beatdown. San Jose won, handily in most cases, every statistic provided. What caught my eye was that the Earthquakes made 85 (out of 136) successful passes in the final third. Chivas USA attempted a mere 70 passes in the final third, 31 of which were successful. A good number of those passes were long balls played to Erick "El Cubo" Torres. I was confined to a TV broadcast but every time I saw Torres, he was tightly marked by Clarence Goodson or another member of the Earthquakes' defense.

Long balls over the defense (aka Route 1, Elton John's Watford, and other names) is not necessarily a bad way to play soccer especially for a goal starved team playing against a direct opponent like San Jose. But you can't just launch balls into the air and hope that your one, solitary striker is going to bring it down when he's outnumbered by as many as 7 opposing players!

In the last three games--all in which Torres started--Chivas used the 4-2-3-1. Torres, being the single striker, has shown both the speed and technical skills to hold the ball up while teammates can move in for attack. In other words, it's the sort of offense that generally slowly builds up the attack through quick passes and technique.

Or--and Chivas fans who witnessed 2012 know this well--the 4-2-3-1 can clog the final third making it hard for opponents to break down the defense resulting in some dreary nil-nil ties.

What do you think? Do you think the team needs to scrap the 4-2-3-1 and play the 4-4-2? Is Erick Torres going to score again?

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