Los Angeles Football Club are set to kick off their first season on Sunday, and anticipation is ramping up. But how will LAFC play?
It’s an important question but one that represents a starting point for understanding how a team plays. Ask most managers about formations and they usually say that formations aren’t a be-all and end-all of everything, and they’re right. Soccer is a fluid game, and boiling it down to arbitrary spots where players may stand sometimes doesn’t make a ton of sense.
But still, formations are useful in that they offer an indication of how a team will play. So how about LAFC?
LAFC started the preseason playing a 4-3-3, a rather promising formation that tends to be shorthand for “attacking.” Given the riches on offer in attack for LAFC, with Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Marcos Urena and Latif Blessing all starting-caliber, it makes sense to try and get as many of those players on the field as possible.
The issue? There’s not enough personnel in midfield at present to really make that central band reliable. Blessing played in midfield at times in preseason, and while he did his part on the attacking end, defending (a key part of the midfield in a 4-3-3) is not his strong suit.
The other philosophical question in a midfield for a 4-3-3 is how the players should line up. Normally, playmakers in any formation play centrally, although that isn’t a hard and fast rule (Mauro Rosales was very successful for a time as a playmaking winger in the Seattle Sounders’ attack). Benny Feilhaber is both the clear playmaker in midfield and also a player who has a wealth of experience in defending in a 4-3-3, given his time with Sporting Kansas City. But Sporting usually used the two wide slots for defensive-minded midfielders, aka the holding mids who usually play in the middle. You can see where this can be a dilemma for a manager.
Calum Mallace, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta seem like the best candidates to play holding midfield for LAFC, Kaye in particular as a wide defensive winger. Is that how they’ll actually line up? Probably not. There seems to be too many square pegs in a midfield that still needs bolstering to be really be considered reliable at this stage.
This is the formation Bob Bradley used most often when managing the U.S. Men’s National Team, but I’ll save you some time to say I think it’s very unlikely he’ll be using this formation in the opening weeks of the season. In addition to being light on midfielders in general, making the attacking band a duo instead of a trio seems to run counter to the kind of attack Bradley wants to play. Vela, Rossi and Blessing are players who like to drop back, pick up the ball, head out wide sometimes, change up the timing of their runs into the box, and even Ureña does plenty of defensive work up top so he won’t just be hanging around the last defender all game waiting for a ball to be kicked his way. So to me, looks like the 4-4-2 is a non-starter.
Bingo, I think we have the solution.
With two players deep in midfield, it will likely be Feilhaber + holding midfielder, which makes sense. The band of three behind the striker very seamlessly would be Rossi, Vela and Blessing, and Ureña can start up top, while still performing the role of a second striker with the other three crashing into the box. It is by far the most logical formation to use to start the season.
Having said all that...
It’s important to stress that a formation on Sunday against Seattle may not be the formation Bradley settles on for the whole game, or even for the season. Some players will impress, others will disappoint, and tweaking is bound to happen. But I feel pretty confident that they’ll start the campaign with a 4-2-3-1, which is a pretty popular formation worldwide these days.
The next question is who is going to play in defense for LAFC. We’ll tackle that in an upcoming post.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!