Cassar's subs: Shifting attack toward flanks pays dividends in RSL win over Chicago

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Cassar may be new to this head coaching gig, but his substitutions on Saturday showed a coach with a more nuanced approach than you'd expect with that experience.

Cassar's first set of substitutions, coming actually surprisingly late at 69 minutes, saw Sebastian Velasquez in for Luke Mulholland - a rote change by now, but one which doesn't require re-justification - and Abdoulie Mansally in for Chris Wingert.

It's difficult to pinpoint what Velasquez brought to the match, and perhaps with good reason. He had only five passes (four successful) and an unsuccessful dribble to speak of (though that was in a difficult position and nearly came off). But the midfield was packed at that point in the match, and our play naturally shifted to the left flank, while Velasquez was on the right.

Abdoulie Mansally was an inspired substitution. The left back has been good in his limited time this season, and given he brings a considerably more attacking mentality to play, the change was easy to understand. It shifted our play more to the left flank, in essence giving us a chance to overload that side.

But the chalkboard actually shows something a bit more interesting: We had nearly no passes come from the middle of the field, and we went in a fair few crosses - 12, to be precise, six of which were successful.

So Velasquez being left out of buildup isn't too surprising. Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy may have been involved a bit more, but not significantly. Javier Morales floated to the right side, getting involved frequently, and Tony Beltran pushed up the right side with aplomb.

But, imagine if you will, a match where the midfield is literally surrendered and we push our midfielders wide: We lose vital ground as the opposition simply doesn't have to focus there. We left that an option and it played into our hands, even if our play came from both flanks.

Abdoulie Mansally was fantastic. He got forward well, retreated well, and really chose his moments - and there were plenty of times for that to take place. Chris Wingert, as great a defender as he is, wasn't going to have the same impact, and this is where Mansally's experience as an attacking winger came into play. He was constantly overlapping, making runs over the top of the midfield, and stretching play. When he received the ball, he didn't give it up cheaply.

The final substitution, seeing Olmes Garcia on for Nat Borchers, forced things even further. Garcia was not highly involved, and his numbers show only one pass, a tackle won, and two fouls won. Those two fouls, though, made all the difference. The first was on the right flank near the touchline, where he won a ball that looked completely lost (this factor in Garcia's play is easy to overlook but incredibly important). The second was in our half as we defended our newly begotten lead, and it was the foul that essentially ended the game.

The biggest thing about our late play wasn't necessarily that we sent on attacking substitutes, but that we sent on substitutes that didn't force play. So often in the past we've seen our side struggle when trailing because we take things to the byline and send in cross after cross. We did send in plenty of crosses, but we showed a willingness to build play normally. Not forcing things there allowed us to use our resources best, and it was telling that all three of our goals were something to behold.

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