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Five things Real Salt Lake should do with a new formation

As Real Salt Lake explores new formations, we're looking at some things we think they should try — or advantages they'll have access to as a result of the shifts.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

1. Introduce more natural attacking width

At times, Real Salt Lake struggled to get attacking players out wide — and that's because it sucked the air out of things when we didn't have players attacking centrally during key moments if we shunted a striker too far out wide. Fabian Espindola, for example, was constantly playing on the left side under Jason Kreis, but our attacking connections became a bit forced when opposing coaches figured out the diamond.

Under Jeff Cassar, it improved somewhat, with the wide midfielders in the diamond playing somewhat wider in attack, but it was a course-correction type thing. A new formation will allow us to play wider with more regularity, which allows for interesting work between full backs and wingers — more overlapping runs and things of that sort.

2. Allow more versatility in defensive outlay

Craig Waibel said it best when he said that a formation is based on how you defend, not on how you attack. Playing a 4-3-3 (or a 4-2-3-1, but we'll use those interchangeably throughout this) doesn't have to mean giving up a defensive strategy. It might mean playing a Jordan Allen on the right side, with his stronger defensive instincts (having played at right back with more frequency than any of our forwards) or a Demar Phillips on the left side. It doesn't have to mean giving up numbers, but there's always a risk of that. Regardless, if a team is stronger on the right side, maybe we can play a wingback on the left, or we could switch that around as threats emerge.

3. Switch the wingers!

This might be one of the more overrated uses of wingers, but having players switching flanks can create some interesting shifts in dynamics. Maybe it changes combination play — imagine Jaime on the left and Plata on the right, then switching Saborio out wide with Jaime up top, and think about the passing dynamics that could change — or just allows a player to cut inside when they were cutting outside. It's more fun to think about than it is useful, but hey,

4. Retain the identity the diamond provided

It's perhaps one of the biggest mistakes when considering Real Salt Lake's play last year. Our identity seemed rooted in the diamond, but it actually wasn't — it was rooted in combinations and movement, as most formations are. Sure, we had Beckerman as the anchor and Saborio as the anchor-up-front-guy, but our success was built on how our midfielders combined play. That should — and probably must — remain the case.

5. Provide new looks to the midfield

There were times when Jeff Cassar played a midfielder back with Kyle Beckerman — a Cole Grossman or John Stertzer, usually — but we always looked a little out of place when we did it. A revamped approach allows new midfield options to grow, whether it's playing two midfielders back, two midfielders forward, or simply being a bit more reserved. There's more flexibility than the diamond, which demanded midfielders playing consistently in order for movement to really work out well.