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Tactical Talk: Chivas USA with a three-headed left back dilemma

Cabrera has options, but which one is best?

Toia: Like Jean-Baptiste, still learning the position.
Toia: Like Jean-Baptiste, still learning the position.
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Modern soccer tactics stress the importance of fullbacks' attacking qualities. Some analysts, like Jonathan Wilson, put emphasis on fullbacks describe them as one of the most important position in the modern era of soccer. The main reason is that they are asked to provide a constantly attacking threat out wide, playing as wing-backs with the team in possession. Often they are the only players lined up wide out, as it happens in systems like the 4-3-1-2 or in a 4-3-3 with the wingers drifting inside. Their offensive importance is also raised because often the opposite team is forced to ask his wide midfielders to stop overlapping fullbacks. Modern fullbacks are those that are good both offensively and defensively. The prototype of this is the Brazilian Maicon of Roma.

Chivas USA's situation at full back, specially at left back, remains a question mark.

After dominating the first half, CUSA's backline allowed the winning goal in the 66th minute to Yannick Djaló, courtesy of a double mistake made by both full backs. In fact, while Eric Avila, in the right side, were easily beaten by Shea Salinas, his counterpart, Danny Toia, was slow to stop Djaló's volley.

On the right side, Chivas coach Wilmer Cabrera is fielding Avila, who is a former midfielder converted to play out wide in the back line. Avila has generally adjusted to his new position but his learning curve is obviously not complete yet as the defensive ability is still out from his skill set although if he's improving as his four tackles per game showed. Be that as it may, Cabrera seems to have made a final decision on Avila, picking him as the starter right there.

In contrast, the left back spot is still an open question. This is why the contrast involving Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Donny Toia for this left-back spot appears more interesting. Chivas USA lack of a natural left back with Tony Lochhead going down with an injury has meant both replacements made a transition from other positions. The former Timbers center back filled in at left back while Toia is a former left midfielder that netted 6 goals out from 24 games for USL Pro's side of Phoenix FC last season. So both need to learn new positioning and tactics.

So far, Jean-Baptiste showed to be more accurate as a ball carrier, producing an average of 85.3 percent of pass success with Toia hitting a low of 65.5. Although both showed defensive deficiencies, Jean-Baptiste seems to be more settled to play there, actually, also thanks to his size, that made him more able to help the center backs against the balls challenged up into the air. For Toia, his most evident qualities rely on his crossing and his pace while he needs to improve his tackling, as he appeared uncomfortable with his defensive responsibilities.

A new look at Lochhead could be not out of the question yet, as the New Zealand international defender is a proven left back and a more frequent tackler than Baptiste and Toia with 2.3 tackles per game. He also averaged a 74.3 of pass accuracy.

Finding a complete fullback is a hard task. Just ask Jurgen Klinsmann. Cabrera said he wants his backs to attack but a fullback is primarily a defender so his first duty is to be able to win defensive one-against-one situations. This is especially true in an offensive 4-4-2/4-1-4-1 as that which Cabrera has been putting on the pitch recently. Playing behind attack-minded wingers as Leandro Barrera and Mauro Rosales requires the ability to manage defensive duties in order to support the defensive liabilities that so much attacking-oriented players usually have. That in the way to made the team more balanced.

If he wants to come back to gain points, Cabrera will have to fix this issue. And, with goalkeeper Dan Kennedy out the next game due to the red card he received in the 77th minute, Cabrera has to do it as soon as possible.

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