When we played Club Tijuana in a friendly with little real consequence, we rolled out an exciting formational shift -- we once again played in a 4-3-3, and one with more of an attacking slant than other iterations of the formation.
At one point, we had Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval in the lineup; Sandoval, as expected, played through the middle, and both Garcia and Plata roamed around, looking for space.
It wasn't entirely successful, but that doesn't really speak to the formation in and of itself. Any formation requires time and energy to adjust to, and at any rate, our struggles were more down to the channel-disrupting defense from the Mexican side.
We might ask ourselves whether the 4-3-3 is something we want to have as part of our arsenal. It might well be, but it's more important to understand the benefits it gives us before we decide that. Let's go over some of those and discuss the actual benefit it might bring us -- and perhaps some of the harms.
Get more players into the attack.
This is an important part of how we play, and we're actually doing pretty well in this regard. We're pushing our midfielders wider and higher up the pitch, which allows Javier Morales to drop to pick up space and play more direct passes. But playing a 4-3-3 doesn't really change how many players we have attacking at any given moment -- we commit numbers forward very well, so at most moments, we have between six and nine players joining in on an attack, with a defender ready to act as a release valve around the midfield line. Adding a third forward doesn't really do that, but it does change the types of players we have available there.
Add more width to the attack
This is a big thing, but if we're playing a forward on the wing, we're essentially sapping their most useful qualities from them. In a prototypical 4-3-3, the two wider forwards are going to need to be great in the attack and good dropping to aid the defense. In transition, they shouldn't really be caught out of position. Now, there is a bit more natural width added this way, but we should ask ourselves if it is significantly more than we usually have.
One of our biggest strengths is in how we pull a defense to one side, and that's something we might lose if we focus on bringing width to our attack. We do have good width in the attack now, but it's typically focused on one side. If we tilt that the other way, maybe we lose that benefit a little.
Push more of our forwards on the pitch
This is probably the biggest benefit. Once Sebastian Jaime and Alvaro Saborio are both playing regularly, we'll have six forwards on the books -- adding in Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia and Robbie Findley. We'll end up with some residual problems if we can no longer offer regular minutes to anyone beyond the top three, and maybe that hurts us in the long run.
It's something I'm sure the coaching staff has considered, and I'm not sure it's a good reason for a tactical shift. But if we have six forwards and only really play three -- or maybe four -- in a single match, we'll land ourselves in a heap of trouble.
Push our midfielders back a bit
Now this is hardly a strength — it's probably a weakness. We've excelled when we've kept four midfielders on the pitch. Our strength is in the pass — pulling the opposition midfield apart and opening space for smart runs. Now, that's not something that disappears if we drop a midfielder, but it could potentially be problematic. We've excelled with our runs coming in from deeper positions, and less so when our runs are dropping back into space. Again, it's not a full argument against, but it's a consideration.