Diamonds are not always your best friend
Diamonds, the hardest naturally occurring substance found on Earth. Able to cut through the densest of material, the diamond is also known to produce great joy. But just as the gemstone has begun to lose favor with industrial manufacturers, so too may the diamond 4-4-2 in Major League Soccer.
After seven years in the diamond, Real Salt Lake has almost exclusively worked in the 4-3-3 since preseason. While not ditching the diamond entirely, Jeff Cassar said the switch was a result of some of the league's best clubs figuring out the intricacies of the diamond - and it seems like he may be on to something. Even the man who pioneered this system in Salt Lake, Jason Kreis, has been moving away from the system.
As of recent, Kreis has been trying a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, and even the rare 4-2-2-2 - at times. Still, his expansion side's record is 1-2-3 when employing the diamond 4-4-2. So while it is true that he may no longer have Javier Morales or Kyle Beckerman at his disposal, the players that he brought in are more than capable of playing the formation - looking at you, Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez - but I digress. It could be other things but as Cassar alluded to, it could be that teams in the league have finally figured out how to counter the fluid movements of the diamond.
On the night RSL only created four goal scoring chances. This has become less surprising (sadly) that RSL's offense looked stagnant since Real sits at the bottom of the league in total chances created - only above the Montreal Impact who have only played four matches this season. Moreover, the diamond formation is not actually known for producing a plethora of chances but the Claret-and-Cobalt found success in possessing the ball and limiting the chances of the opposition.
The New England Revolution, however, were either unaware of this fact or just didn't care as they were able to piece together 18, yes, 18 different chances. The Revs managed to string together passes and pull apart both the opposition's midfield and back line in order to create 4.5 times more chances than RSL managed. In addition, three of RSL's chances came from crosses while New England only managed to create a single chance from a cross. That means that most of the keypasses that the Revs managed came straight down the center of the pitch - basically shoving the ball down the throats of the RSL defense.
Take a look:
It is assumed then that the Revs had the combination to the RSL midfield and were able to easily unlock it. It is jarring that the Revs so easily stripped apart an RSL side who had previously used the diamond to great success.
This is not how RSL are used to playing. Frankly, it's not really how this lineup should be or expect to be playing.
So while there has been a great measure of clamoring that the new formation is not working, maybe it is something else entirely.
Theoretically speaking, the strength of a formation is only as sturdy as the players who make it up. The players at RSL are undoubtedly some of the best in the league, but they have yet to find the elusive missing piece.
As we mentioned last week, pass completion has been a torn in RSL's side and it manifested itself again. Of the 271 forward passes that RSL attempted only 172 (63.5 percent) were completed. That means, including their passes within their own defensive half, RSL's passing accuracy was well below par when compared to other showings.
In other words, for RSL to find success they must create more chances. But before chances can be created, passes must be completed - especially forward passes.
It could be chalked up to the absence of Morales, but Luis Gil still managed to complete 76 percent of his passes - only behind Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio with 83 percent and 88 percent completion, respectfully. Moreover, Gil attempted more forward passes than anyone on RSL with the exception of Beckerman. In essence, Gil was one of the few bright lights in an otherwise dim performance.
The potential from this squad is more than evident with every passing match, but this is not the same team of old anymore. Cassar has ushered in a new era and parted ways with some key veterans. While his alternations have yet to start paying dividends, maybe we all learned that relying on past success does not necessarily produce results either.
As Cassar looks to create a more dynamic and versatile side along the Wasatch Front, it will take time for his iteration of the club to manifest. But it could be the difference maker that leads to more RSL silverware and better chances against large market clubs with those deep pockets.
What do you think? Do you agree that "this league" might have figured out the diamond? Do you still think that the diamond 4-4-2 can bring success? How does this match forebode for the future of Real Salt Lake? Do you think the squad is improving? Is there anything you would like to add? Share your opinions in the comments section below.