Freddy Juarez First Big Change As Manager Should Be The Formation

Dec 23, 2019, 1:49 PM | Updated: 2:17 pm
Photo courtesy: Real Salt Lake...
Photo courtesy: Real Salt Lake

SANDY, Utah – Freddy Juarez should seriously consider a new formation ahead of the 2020 season. The newly appointed manager will have a number of key decisions to make prior to the season starting on February 29th, however, if I were in his shoes, I would change the formation first and foremost.

The Past

RSL has been operating in a 4-3-2-1 formation. The four defenders solidify the backline, two central midfielders to help possess the football and control the speed and tempo of the match. The attacking third of the pitch has been flooded with skilled players. Albert Rusnak has predominantly played as the center attacking midfielder and the ideal man to create any attacking chances. His options have been to kick the ball out wide to wingers with the skillset of Jefferson Savarino or to play a ball into the feet or in behind the opposing backline in the hopes of finding someone with the speed of Sam Johnson.

Unfortunately, Johnson did not see the pitch as often as I am sure he would have hoped in 2019 and Damir Kreilach was played out of position at the top of the attack for large stretches of the season. When Kreilach plays the number nine role, the ball will often be pushed out to the wings with the intention of finding Damir Kreilach’s head from a ball played into the area.

It all got a little too confusing. Players were being played out of position and it seemed as though the formation did not suit the roster. Sam Johnson cannot be playing off the bench, he is far too talented and makes far too much money to be getting 20 minutes a game.

How do we change that?

The formation needs to be tinkered with.

The Future

When you break down the RSL roster from 2019 and determine where the ‘weak-links’ were, I personally would first look at the fullbacks. Brooks Lennon, who has since been traded to Atlanta, and Donny Toia, who was recently re-signed for an extra year, were okay at best. Aaron Herrera, however, was sensational and showcased his ability to play a number of positions.

If Juarez does not change the lineup then you would imagine Herrera plays the majority of his minutes at right-back and Toia plays at left-back. I am not sold on Toia playing meaningful minutes at left-back and still feel as though he makes too many mistakes for RSL to be able to rely on him. At this point in Toia’s career, he is better suited to coming off the bench when RSL has the lead and is trying to slow the game down and leave with a result. No hard feelings, Toia, you are far more talented at playing the beautiful game than I am at doing anything.

3-3-2-2 Explained

What if Juarez changed the lineup to look more like a 3-3-2-2?

David Ochoa should be the man in between the sticks. He is 18 years young and if RSL intends on selling him in the future and getting some decent money for him then they are best off playing him in 2020. Not that Andrew Putna has not proven himself over the few starts that he has been given, it’s just that Putna is 25 and the future seems brighter with Ochoa.

Nedum Onuoha, Justen Glad, and Aaron Herrera are your three defenders. Onuoha is your force in between the two. Herrera and Glad have the speed to chase down wingers and close space much faster than the veteran Onuoha. It is certainly a risk, and you may end up conceding more goals than you would have preferred to, but if I am Juarez, I say take the risk now as opposed to when the writing is on the wall in a year or two’s time.

Everton Luiz would continue to play at his preferred position at center defensive midfield where he showed that he is still, despite being 31 years young, has the ability to stop attacking opportunities from the opposing team while also being able to influence the counter-attack.

Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnak would then play just in front of Luiz, and act as your traditional center midfielders would. Control the tempo of the game, have the ball run through either of them when RSL is pushing the ball forward and let the two most creative players on your roster create. Kreilach could also slip in behind Rusnak, allowing Rusnak to push deeper into the attack and vice versa. Rusnak and Kreilach need to be able to play freely, working in tandem with one and other to help set up the best attacking opportunities while also making sure they are in a position to bunker down if the ball is turned over.

The left and right midfielders would be asked to do a lot. Jefferson Savarino would start on the left side of the formation while Corey Baird would be on the right. You know what they offer from an attacking standpoint, but where their role becomes challenging is on the defensive end. Not that they did not have defensive responsibilities in 2019, however, when you play three across the back-line, you rely far more on the defensive work-rate of your outside midfielders. If RSL is going to make this formation work, the likes of Savarino and Baird would need to focus just as much on the defensive side of the ball as they would on the attacking side of things.

Sam Johnson and Douglas Martinez would be your two starting strikers. Johnson offers speed and can get in and behind the backline of opposition teams by making long runs in which Kreilach or Rusnak could feed. While Martinez, who is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he scored 17 goals in 25 appearances with the Monarchs at just 22 years young, can act as more of your traditional center forward who can score goals with his head and also hold the ball with his back turned to the goal. Similar to how the great Mark Viduka once did for the great Socceroos! Sorry, I could not help myself.

Risk vs. Reward

I know the risk is large. But if you are trying to compete with the Seattle Sounders or the Los Angeles Football Club’s of the world then you are going to have to score goals, and score them at will. In LAFC’s 2018 season, they scored 68 goals and conceded 52, finishing third in the West. However, in 2019, they were the league’s best team (despite not winning MLS Cup) and sorted out their defense by only conceding 37 goals and scoring 85. LAFC did not play a 3-3-2-2 under Bob Bradley, they played a 4-3-3, it’s just, that their roster accommodates a 4-3-3 whereas RSL’s does not.

Juarez will have a leash of about two seasons, barring anything mind-blowing occurring. Why would you not take a risk of this magnitude early in your career in the hopes of revolutionizing the club and having great success, and if it doesn’t work out then you know that you can always fall back on a formation that has proved to be solid? Now is the time for Juarez to roll the dice, and get his head coaching career underway with a bang. Do it, Freddy! The ceiling is limited with the current formation, the fans want a team that can legitimately compete for hardware!

No Kyle Beckerman

I am sorry to the RSL faithful that at this point in the article are only now realizing that I have left the captain, Kyle Beckerman, off the starting XI. Before I explain why he was left off, it is worth noting that I have the utmost respect for Beckerman. He has always gone out of his way to say hello to me in the corridors of Rio Tinto Stadium and I appreciate him for everything that he has ever done for the club. He is deserving of a statue outside the RioT when his career comes to an end.

I still think Beckerman has a place on this RSL roster, I believe his role in 2020 is coming off the bench. His legs are slowing down and his ability to keep up with the game is evidently nowhere near it was some five years ago. He still has plenty to offer, his leadership is priceless and crucial to help the younger generation develop. If RSL has a week where they play three games in seven days, then start him during the midweek fixture. I do not believe he is up to the challenge of starting 25 games in 2020, however.

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Freddy Juarez First Big Change As Manager Should Be The Formation