Don't call it a diamond.
At least, don't call it a diamond if you believe what Jeff Cassar's been saying about deploying his side in a 4-4-2 twice last week — one that's seen the team's fortunes turned on their head.
And while it probably doesn't matter if we call it a diamond or not, it still plenty interesting to talk about and meander around the topic. So let's put the question to task and see what we can figure out: Is Real Salt Lake playing in a diamond?
Well, not really. But sort of.
It's hardly the definitive answer anybody wants, but here's the thing — Craig Waibel was right Monday when he talked about it just being "semantics" during an interview on ESPN 700. And he has a good point, too.
"The movements are largely left up to the players and the creativity of the personnel you put on the field," he said in the interview.
And of course, he had one of those classic lines about formations not winning games, but we're not out here talking about formations because they're responsible for the game. We talk about formations because they help us understand what happened in the game, to find patterns in play so we can more easily analyze individual moments, and to communicate about the game effectively.
That doesn't discount anything Waibel had to say, but it does provide us with the ammunition we need to continue talking about it. Not that we need permission, of course, right? Right.
Alright — so is Real Salt Lake playing in a diamond? Am I hemming and hawing about it for no good reason? While I admit that's a distinct possibility, it's because it's hard to really answer definitively.
So what can we say definitively?
This isn't Jason Kreis's diamond. If we're going to call it a diamond, it's a lot closer to what RSL was doing last year, but it's definitely nothing we'd seen from Jason Kreis during his run here. Why not? It's about the strictness of roles, really. Where the two midfielders as recently as 2013 were shuttlers — they were build-up players, connective players, and the sinew that connected the front and back of the midfield — they're not just that now.
Luis Gil, Luke Mulholland, and Jordan Allen each played more or less the same role against LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire. They differed only in where they did that — Allen was largely on the left, Gil was largely central, and Mulholland was largely on the right side. But if you drew a line across the midfield somewhere between the lower edge of the final third and the midfield stripe, you'd find they all sort of focused their efforts there.
Take a look at these three charts — they should provide some context.
We see here that Allen's pretty concentrated — but he's still popping up in a number of places. This almost adds to a yes-diamond argument, but he's playing higher and wider than we'd have expected in that formation.
You'll see that Gil isn't necessarily playing much higher than Allen — he's just spread more widely across the pitch. If you thought it looked like Gil was playing everywhere, it's because he kind of was.
Alright, so this one's a little weird — Mulholland somehow had some concentrations deep, but that's probably down to a fairly busy period in that spot. But you'll see, too, that's playing up and down the side, coming centrally only occasionally. While he was spotted quite a bit centrally, he's still pretty right-sided.
So: A diamond, or not a diamond?
I'm going to say "not a diamond," but I'm going to say it quietly so you can't really hear it clearly. It's not a diamond because it's a flat three in the midfield instead of a staggered look, but it was a flat three in both attacking and defensive phases. There was usually one player forward in defense and one player back in attack. You know — balance and all that.
And with that, we still don't have an answer. But if you called it a diamond, I guess nobody could really be offended. Not even Jeff Cassar.