As every Real Salt Lake fan is aware, Jeff Cassar has turned to the 4-3-3 as his go to formation this year. Still Cassar has not used other formations often this year - mostly to accommodate injuries and absences — but with the full offensive regiment healthy, he has once again rolled the 4-3-3 out on the field.
As it stands, Cassar has not used this formation as often as he would have liked, and when he has it has nearly been an unmitigated disaster. Cassar preached time and time again that the impact of the formation shift will not be fully realized until the return of Joao Plata. Well, he is back and the result remains the same.
That said, there is a lot to suggest that this formation should be the Claret-and-Cobalt's most functional given its personnel and fans should seriously consider it as a viable option going forward. So far there has been admittedly some errors when using this formation that has played into RSL's opponents' hands rather than the play of their own game. As mentioned before, the lineup itself has been problematic with such a turnover in personnel. The reintegration of Plata and Sebastian Jamie — not to mention Javier Morales — has the potential to be the spark that this club needs theoretically, but it has yet to translate to the pitch.
So where has it been going wrong?
The 4-3-3 is probably the best formation to optimize the Claret-and-Cobalt's true attacking potential. With a plethora of attacking options available to Cassar, it makes the most sense. It is perfectly tailored to utilize a number 9 like Alvaro Saborio, who is an aerial threat in the box but also likes to layoff the ball to on-rushing teammates. The only problem here is that the offense has yet to build offensive awareness.
Since switching from the diamond 4-4-2, the offense has been finding it hard to connect with other players. Unsure about where their teammates will be and whether or not to make the runs or cut into the run of play, RSL's offense has struggled in their offensive awareness.
Take for instant Plata. The diminutive Ecuadorian played more like a second forward than a winger against Colorado. On the flanks he found little success in creativity or possession. In other words, he found it hard to connect with his teammates. When he cut inside and played within the width of the 18-yard box, however, the secondary striker instincts turned on and he created three dangerous chances on the night.
With more players making runs into the offensive third, is it not to be assumed that the 4-3-3 provides more attacking options?
Still, even Plata, creative as he is, has struggled to place the ball at his teammates' feet. The club has lacked the sense of purpose that made 'Porterball' so successful in Portland and will need to find it if they are to become successful in their new formation.
In short, RSL has lacked the creatively in the attack - it's a 4-3-3 for a reason - and thus has been unable to put the ball where it counts - in the back of the net.
Giving up the ball as much as RSL did from wing play not only gives their opponent's chances, but it also stands as a reminder that RSL still needs to work on possession, now more than ever. The Claret-and-Cobalt have relayed on a style of play that dominates possession and chance creation for the majority of their history. Therefore, RSL has relished in maintaining the majority of the ball against their opponents but utilizing the 4-3-3 their retention game has struggled. An additional midfielder, like Luke Mulholland for example, would go a long way in improving that.
For a side that has built success in retaining and creating chance-after-chance for its attackers, the Claret-and-Cobalt find themselves on the lesser end of possession time and time again. Needless to say, that improvement in ball retention is another aspect of RSL's game that absolutely needs improvement if they are to climb the standings in the coming weeks.
Finding Sebastian Jaime a spot in the Starting XI
Unless Jamie takes up a wide position or plays as a "False 9," there is no real way to fit him into this system and that dilemma is the biggest concern as it applies to the Claret-and-Cobalt. Last year Dell Loy Hansen spent a pretty penny to acquire this player and therefore it is a necessity to see him in the lineup. Jaime is arguably RSL's most important acquisition within the last year. His work-horse attitude mimics that of Ned Grabavoy, who was lost in the expansion draft. Removing him from his role to accommodate others will only come at the expense of hindering his game. Right now, he needs match minutes to continue his assimilation to both the club and the league, without this Jaime could certainly become a casualty of this system - much like Enzo Martinez in 2012 and '13.
The 4-3-3 means one more slot for the many attackers that the Claret-and-Cobalt have and finding the right front three could take more time than Cassar can afford coming into the summer stretch of the season.
The Claret-and-Cobalt are still, without doubt, in the experimentation phase of the 4-3-3 switch as the club's entire regiment of players are just becoming healthy. Getting the previously injured players integrated into the system will be essential, but there are other vital aspect of RSL's game that the coaching staff will have to consider if the Claret-and-Cobalt is to climb out of the 9th spot in the West.
In order to right the ship, Cassar and Co. will be on their toes to make this new system work while retaining the club identity that has made RSL historically successful.
What do you think? What hasn't been working with the 4-3-3? Will RSL continue to use it now that RSL's attacking DPs are available? Will the club return to some form of the diamond? What does this mean for the shape of the side? Share your opinions in the comments section below.