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Is RSL’s single-formation era over?

Mike Petke’s tactical stylings will get a real run-out this week.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at New England Revolution David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

For the better part of a decade, Real Salt Lake has kept one formation at a time, with Jason Kreis’s diamond and Jeff Cassar’s 4-3-3 tending to not see too much broad tactical variation.

The days of that tactical consistency now officially look to be over, with RSL coach Mike Petke deploying what we might describe as a 4-1-3-2, of sorts — but however you decide to cast it, whether it’s as a diamond or as something altogether different, it’s not the 4-3-3 (or, you know, whatever) that we saw in his early weeks.[

Of course, it’s not like RSL’s former coaches in Kreis and Cassar were always consistent in how they put a formation out there, but if we’re speaking in broad swathes, we simply haven’t changed all that much. That tactical security — and the mixed results it produced, of course — has rendered us all as looking at formations in a fairly static way. Formations are a thing to be committed to, after all, and that’s what we saw.

Solutions — especially those found here, both by writers (myself included) and by commenters — often trend toward establishing one true formation. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most coaches do stick to one formation.

But I think we’re starting to gather more evidence — not that we needed it — that Mike Petke’s pragmatism will come out when we look at the lineups he plays. This was more or less expected when he came here — he might have a preferred look and feel to his team, but if necessary, he will try something a bit different.

We don’t yet know what his preferred formation will be, but part of me wonders if we saw it on Saturday, when he put RSL out in a roughly hewn diamond that glanced back at late 2000s European teams for style — think 2010 Chelsea, for example, rather than 2010 Real Salt Lake.

What we don’t know, of course, is if we’ll see it again tonight. The personnel on hand should include Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, among others, and one would readily expect players like Albert Rusnák and Luke Mulholland to work their way back into the system. That might warrant returning to another formational style — but, again, there are lots of question marks.

The big question on my mind right now, though, is if Petke will find a preferred formation, or if we’ll be stuck in formational limbo through 2017 until everything is better established. For my money, I’d like to see more of a run at that 4-1-3-2 we saw, because I think there’s something interesting there. It’s a very attacking style — in fact, let’s talk about it a little.

It’s hard to make a full evaluation of the formation, simply because the magnitude of the loss naturally skewed tactics. Our first half, too, was simply terrible — and that makes it all the harder. But if we look more at the second half, I think we’ll find something interesting.

That midfield is where I’d hone in — ostensibly, two or three of the four players was given a more attacking role than a combinatorial role. Ricardo Velazco, for example, may have been on the ‘left side’, and Omar Holness may have been on the opposite, but all told, both players more or less floated around looking to pick up the ball. In defense, both played ostensibly as wide midfielders. Jose Hernandez, in his first start, didn’t look overawed himself. In fact, I’d argue that maybe his role and Joao Plata’s role provided a bit too much overlap. Here, look at this fancy GIF (with a link if you can’t see it below.)

Anyway, let’s not dive too far into this yet. There will be plenty of time to do that if this turns out to be something Mike Petke pursues with any regularity. I’m still doubtful he’ll stick to it, at any rate — but every good coach has their preferences, right?