Kyle Beckerman is a vital cog in the way we play — some might argue his position is the one that separates our midfield from most other midfields in the league.
Where many others in MLS use two holding players (often in a bid to get two wide players and two strikers out there), we have just the one, and “holding” is so often the wrong descriptor for his play.
He’s a tremendous player and we’re not surprised he’s going to the World Cup. Nor would we be surprised if he sees minutes there, such is his quality. Salt Lake City (and the remainder of Utah, no doubt) has long been a believer in Beckerman at this level.
So with him gone to the preliminary squad as a nearly sure thing for the final 23, we’re forced to look at ourselves in the mirror. The club, that is — not us as readers or bloggers, thankfully. What do we do there?
The easy answer is to place Cole Grossman in Beckerman’s spot. He’s the closest approximation to Beckerman we have; as a midfielder capable in both directions and proficient in the pass, it places him squarely in that category.
His biggest advantage is his similarity in style to our captain, but he doesn’t match up in skill. This is inevitable. The biggest advantage for the team is that it allows us to retain our stylistic variant of the midfield diamond without too much trouble.
There have been near-constant shouts for Ned Grabavoy to take over at the base of the diamond, and we’ve certainly seen him there before. While we’ve seen him in a more attacking role in the last two years, he’s played spot duty for Beckerman before, and not incapably so.
I’d hesitate to place him there, though, because he’s been a big part of what we do going forward. Moving him takes another piece out of our usual play, and it will be easier to deal with one shift in the midfield than with two.
This is a slightly different option in that it changes the dynamic of our midfield substantially, but Carlos Salcedo has played here for the reserves and looked capable. His passing isn’t quite what Beckerman’s is, but that’s really not surprising — only a few players on the team meet that requirement.
Still, Salcedo can be a strong-tackling, defense-minded player in that position, and if we find ourselves foundering without Beckerman’s defensive outlay, that might not be the worst option.
Change the diamond
This would be a drastic move to cope with the loss of one player on a short-term basis, but if we really find ourselves struggling, we could always change our approach. We could shift to a double-pivot midfield, with Grossman and Grabavoy generally deep and Javier Morales forward — this would leave room for another midfielder in a free role or a forward. We could also play with two deep midfielders and three attacking midfielders.
I wouldn’t advocate for this. Making changes on an ad hoc basis is a dangerous precedent to set, and we seem to have all the right pieces available to us. We’ve had success simply being us so far, and there’s no reason to abandon that yet.