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How'd that 4-3-3 look? Three reasons the new formation didn't look up to snuff

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With Real Salt Lake deploying in a 4-3-3 for their first match of the regular season — a 0-0 draw against Portland Timbers — we got our first real look at Jeff Cassar's new shape for his team.

Clearly, it didn't look as good as it could have. We can speculate about personnel or blame individuals, or we can look more specifically at some reasons it didn't work out as well as it could have.

With RSL under the gun for nearly all of the match, it becomes difficult to get a true sense of a formation — but we can, at the very least, look for the reasons they were finding that difficult.

1. Lack of good understanding of movement

As with any formation change, player movement changed significantly. When players were looking to unleash others on runs, those runs often moved in different directions than expected. That's something that can be adjusted over time, but in the rare instances when RSL had any sort of sustained possession, the final pass just wasn't anywhere close to there.

2. A reactive approach led to heavy clearances

Over one match, Real Salt Lake had nearly twice as many clearances as any other team in MLS. There are two distinct reasons for that: First, Portland were sending cross after cross (both from corners and from run-of-play crosses) into the box, leading to a high number of clearances in that way as we thumped the ball away. Second, the final 30 minutes just sort of turned into a clear-fest as RSL sought (and secured) a draw; this is particularly the case because of the first point.

3. Midfield pushed too deep

And the thing that really sealed it all and enabled both points, I think: The midfield sat too deep. On a heat map, Javier Morales looks like Kyle Beckerman (sort of), while Beckerman looks like a defender. Luis Gil popped up all over the place, but he didn't have the passing options necessary to really do anything. And as a result of that, the forwards didn't have much to go with, and their options were even fewer. It all sort of cascaded from that.

These are all fixable problems. There's nothing here that's particularly unexpected, and on the road against a difficult team that had their midfield-heavy approach shifted because of injuries — shunting play out to the flanks as a result, and leading to heavier crossing measures than usual.

It was, as expected, a strange match, and we can't necessarily push the formation as the source of our failings.