I saw something on Saturday that has me extremely excited. I will give a little background first and then get to the good stuff after the jump.
I learned the game of soccer in Spain. I like a lot of Americans thought soccer was not really a sport (like the ignorant person that I was). The first time I watched a full match was October 24th 2004, Barcelona vs Osasuna, it had a final score of Barca 3-0. I was pretty doubtful it would be entertaining but Eto'o scored a brace (on the 90th minute) and Ronaldihno scored a goal as well. I grew up completely engulfed with basketball. My grandpa played professionally, my dad was a walk on in college and I played it every free minute as a youth. I had seem a lot of the great basketball players so I knew what greatness looked like. Never had anyone impressed me as much as Ronaldihno did. Xavi of course was great but I had never seen such amazing movement and the way Ronaldiho just played with people was a sight to behold. Well needless to say I was hooked and have followed FC Barcelona ever since and by proxy Spain's national team.
I picked a good time to follow both as Barcelona finally won la liga that year and Spain went on to win the next Euro Cup and eventually the World Cup. I know this might come across as arrogant but I have seen soccer played at the highest level possible. I got to see the end of a legend and follow the begging of possibly the greatest footballer of all time in Messi. I was spoiled, kind of like someone who became a RSL fan at the end of 2008. Start liking the team right before the trophies start coming.
So what does this have to do with Saturday's game?Well as you might imagine I would like to see RSL emulate Barcelona as much as possible. I know from my interactions with a lot of the players that a majority of them also like watching Barcelona. So it is no suprise to me when I see them doing similar things to what Barcelona used to do.
Saturday for the first time in a long time I saw RSL finally have the 2 outside backs work the ball up the sideline and send in passes or crosses either to the center of the box directly of little passes Javi or one of the other midfielders so they could get it in toward the middle as well.
At countless games I've asked my wife why doesn't Wingert push up the sideline they are giving him the whole half of the field? Why is Beltran stopping at midfield? I had thought it was a Wingert/Beltran problem for almost a year but then anytime anyone else played that spot they did the same thing and I think once I saw Will Johnson doing the same thing I realized it is what the coaches want.
I then began complaining why are we being so stupid? The opponent is giving us acres of space and instead we are trying to jam the ball up the middle where all 11 guys are at. For years we did this and got less and less effective because everyone in the league knows RSL like to push the ball right up the middle.
We have slowly but surely become less and less dominate. Teams game plans went from bunker ball into what I would call skinny t ball. On defense completely ignore the flanks except close to your own goal. clog the middle as much as possible. For a while if made no difference RSL would always find a way to break through and punish teams but this year has been different.
We have seen a RSL rollercoaster of being dominant and then being docile, high and low, strong and weak. But I believe Kreis and the coaching staff have finally figured out why our effectiveness has dropped. It isn't that the league has gotten so much better than RSL, it is tactics. We became too predictable. We love our diamond midfield and work the pass until the perfect spot.
On Saturday though we seemed a little desperate. We needed to end the skid and pick up points in the worst possible way. So we did the unthinkable we started out pushing our fullback up the sideline until they met a defender and then would sometimes lay the ball off to an onside forward or midfielder making an overlapping run. And other times our outside backs would take on the first wave of resistance and dummy them and run by.
I wish I could say we rained goals in the game but we didn't. I will say this tactic if continued will lead to increased midfield space and allow us to more freely return to our roots. Of course we would prefer to do what we do best. When we play a spread out team and have room in the midfield, we run most everyone off the field. Teams have figured this out and adjusted. They have been daring us to try bringing the ball up the wings and we haven't taken that dare. Until now.
Just as Barcelona has had to adjust their tactics to take advantage of teams overplaying their midfield by moving the ball up the flanks, so to should RSL. People call us the Barcelona of MLS for a reason.
I pray RSL continues to take advantage of what we are given. Bringing the ball up into attack through our outside backs forces teams to defend the edges and gives our midfield room to work. We already saw it took DC almost a full half to adjust and then we were able to play our normal game from their adjustments. They were not able to fully commit more numbers in the midfield as they still had to try and stop the ball from moving up the flanks. Fortune Favors the Bold!