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Tactical Talk: Wingers in, slow strikers out in Wilmer Cabrera's offensive system

A strategic explanation of recent Chivas USA moves.

Barrera's two-way play out wide has made him a fixture in the lineup.
Barrera's two-way play out wide has made him a fixture in the lineup.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Chivas USA earned a good 1-1 tie at Toyota Park against FC Dallas on Saturday. It was not a spectacular match, as both sides created few scoring opportunities. Dallas controlled the ball and CUSA enjoyed to stay out of possession for the most part, as it was their main tactical approach to games since coach Wilmer Cabrera took the reigns of the team.

Since it was a relatively quiet game, with no great tactical aspects to be analyzed, let's turn our attention to a particular tactical aspect about Chivas USA's display this term: how hard is to play up top for a Rojiblanco side featuring Erick Torres in a lone forward role.

As Chivas USA officially stated this past week, the team parted ways with Mexican forward Adolfo Bautista. The decision to end the Bofo experiment came by mutual consent, according to the statement. The brief relationship between MLS side and Mexican forward lasted less than three months as Bautista joined Chivas USA in the offseason. He collected just seven appearances with the club, with zero goals and one assist recorded. Well-known as an assist maker, Bautista failed to put his mark on a club searching for a new identity in the first season of the post-Jorge Vergara era.

From a technical and tactical viewpoint, the Bautista-affaire was a bust. He made just one start with CUSA and Cabrera utilized him essentially as a sub. In fact, scouting his match history card, you can easily see as Bautista amassed just 148 minutes and as he played less than 15 minutes in three of his 7 appearances. The worries about his fitness that popped up upon his arrival in the end proved true. Bautista showed himself out of shape, unable to play 90 minutes and to match the fitness level that MLS style of play requires. Bautista didn't help his cause: he was the shadow of the player fans have seen playing for Mexico in the World Cup and at CD Chivas Guadalajara as his performances never reached a level over 6.50 on's match rating.

The question is: should Chivas USA have been more patient with him? Playing forward for Chivas USA isn't easy. Coach Cabrera relied on a defensive-minded side, playing a 4-1-4-1 formation that doesn't favor forwards. In fact, Cabrera's approach is all about compactness and counter-attacking, putting more emphasis on defensive shape than on creating scoring chances. Furthermore, Cabrera hasn't falled in love with the trend of using an advanced attacking midfielder behind the striker.

Also, you can't forget that as long as CUSA are playing in a lone forward system, this central striker spot belongs to Torres. So, the other forwards have to adapt to Cabrera's tactical decisions and move to different positions. Bautista simply wasn't able to make the transition as he remained a substitute to Torres. The same tactical thoughts led to the trade of Luke Moore to bring on Marvin Chavez. Against Colorado Rapids, his former team, just few days he came to California, the skillful Honduran winger showed why he was added to the club. As Cabrera hoped, he immediately made an impact, bolstering the attack and offering that kind of versatility that Bautista and Moore are lacking. "[Chavez's] mobility and approach to the game will support and complement Erick Torres' skills up top," Cabrera pointed out when the trade took place.

It was a clear statement and declaration of intent: in terms of the way they play, Torres is the centerpiece of CUSA's attack: the whole offense spins around him. Against FC Dallas it was only the third game in which Torres didn't score. The other attacking-oriented players have to play a sidekick role. Mauro Rosales and Leandro Barrera are excelling at it, while Bautista and Moore didn't suit the system. Rosales, Barrera, and Chavez are all suited to play out wide, supporting Torres offensively and collapsing behind to form a 5-man midfield with the team out of possession: a thing neither Bautista or Moore was able to do.

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