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Tactical Talk: The modern striker and Erick "Cubo" Torres' role

The game is constantly changing - how are forwards' roles evolving?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

While the football world's eyes are turned on Colombian James Rodriguez's score against Uruguay, and people started to compare it to Tim Cahill's goal netted against Holland as the best in the tournament, Erick "Cubo" Torres' made a historic golazo that was enough for Chivas USA to beat Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

The Rojiblancos faced a Salt Lake team depleted by the absences of USMNT footballers Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, and of the injured Ned Grabavoy and Alvaro Saborio. Chivas USA too were without two World Cup members in Marvin Chavez and Oswaldo Minda. Scoring his 17th career MLS goal, Torres became the new Mexican-born MLS all-time leading scorer, surpassing the mighty Cuauhtémoc Blanco.

What does that mean, you may be asking, from a tactical viewpoint, to have a player like Torres up front? Usually you can field three kind of forwards in the center striker slot. You can have a tall No. 9, strong on the header, able to hold the ball and in the link play. Or you can find a small one, suited to run through the channels and technically more or less gifted. In Torres, you have the third kind of No.9, that is a technical player not so big or tall but all the same good enough on both holding the ball and linking the play.

"Cubo is a player that wants to score and works hard every day to try to score," head coach Wilmer Cabrera said after the game. But he's also unselfish to work with his teammates. Having this type of player up front gives Cabrera the opportunity to line up two forwards or also to pack the midfield, leaving Torres alone up top. The movements are different. For example, in a 4-4-2 usually you have the forward working each for the other, with the first one dropping deep trying to move a center back to open the space for his offensive partner to make him able to work behind the defense.

In a one forward system, such as the 4-3-3, the lone striker has to be able to hold the ball and work around the backline, creating holes for his supporting teammates to exploit. In the tiki-taka era, although this World Cup could have signaled the end of its primacy, the forward's movement became a more key part of modern soccer.

When you face a team sitting deep and parking the bus, the only way to create spaces and lines of pass is through players' movements. But for a side playing on the counterattack forwards' movement up front is pivotal too. In fact, while the team is defending, the striker has to be able to find the right position from which start the fast-break. When the team out of possession regains the control of the ball, one of the first two passes after the recapture is send to the upfront players. That is way some coaches ask to their forwards, with their team defending, to place themselves according to the zone where the ball is.

The surge of lone forward systems in recent years upheld the necessity to have this kind of mobile footballers up top. Coaches ask them not just to hold the ball but also to make nice runs off the ball working the channels. Searching for those players also explains the popularity that the "false nine" (i.e., not playing a true striker up top) had in recent seasons. In Torres, Chivas USA had exactly a modern forward, both able to run off the ball creating holes for his teammates and suited to work the channels at the back of the opposite defense by himself.

Follow Michele on twitter at @MicheleTossani.

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