Midfield diamond best option for success, with 2013 a record year so far

USA TODAY Sports

With all these subtle shifts in formation, we've talked in great detail about the viability of, say, the 4-2-1-3 as a long-term tactical approach. And that's all fine and good, but sometimes we need to look back at the base on which all is built — the narrow midfield diamond 4-4-2 — and ask ourselves if it's still the right choice, if it should still be the thing to which we return.

We've talked about the diamond in some detail in the past, so we don't really need to dive into it at the deepest level. We know, for instance, that we have four midfielders, two of them nominally wide but not overly so, one deep, and one higher up the pitch. We know, too, that all of those midfielders are responsible for creating space through runs and movement, which changes the dynamic of play significantly. Perhaps that was something we could accuse the squad of forgoing sometimes in exchange for more defensive stability in the past.

Surely that is the most interesting part of the discussion: We have gone from last season's poor showing — a middling 46 goals scored and 35 conceded over 34 matches— to 39 goals scored and 26 conceded over 24 matches. That's a fine 1.6 goals per match in 2013, well above the 1.35 per match in 2012. Still, we've already conceded six more goals over 2010, when we conceded only 20 in our best-ever regular season — though this one surely has potential to beat it.

Year Goals/match Conceded/match
2013 (24/34 games) 1.625 1.08
2012 (34) 1.35 1.02
2011 (34) 1.29 1.05
2010 (30) 1.5 0.66
2009 (30) 1.43 1.16
2008 (30) 1.33 1.3
2007 (30) 1.03 1.5
2006 (32) 1.4 1.5
2005 (32) 0.9 1.85

It's more than just having the potential to beat our best records — it's that we're actually trending significantly higher than we have. Obviously enough, we  cannot reach our best conceded rate; we've already passed over that 2010 number — having conceded 26 over that season's marvelous 20.

Yeah, we'll almost certainly score more goals than we ever have; unless something terrible goes wrong, there's not a huge question of that. Our goalscoring focus has been renewed, and it's because of changes in the diamond that we've seen it, by and large.

The increase in mobility from the squad, with Grabavoy and Beckerman taking up less static positions, has been fantastic. In fewer games — about 1000 fewer minutes of play — Beckerman has found as many assists as last year (four, to be precise) and dramatically reduced his foul count. Ned Grabavoy's fantastic rise to the top of the pile has been discussed plenty, but he's scored more goals than he ever has in a single season.

We could attribute it to players having very strong seasons, but that ignores some important considerations: That the diamond has fundamentally changed. Indeed, calling it a diamond may no longer be apt in most cases, as it becomes so shifted that it's unrecognizable. But formational descriptions are typically just starting points anyway, so perhaps that's a moot point.

When we have Kyle Beckerman making wide runs to the right — and, in the process, creating space for other midfielders by moving defenders with him — and Ned Grabavoy making ensuing runs through the middle — well, it's hard to really argue with the diamond. We can talk about familiarity, effectiveness, teachability, all those good things, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we can't deny that it's working as well as ever — or better.

Surely there are still questions to be answered, chiefly: Who best fits alongside Morales, Grabavoy and Beckerman? Is it Luis Gil, or is he a long-term option? Is it Sebastian Velasquez? Khari Stephenson? These questions may prompt Kreis to look for a formation that fits our squad more snugly. But it's hard to argue with results.

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