Before I begin, I’d like to introduce myself a little bit because I’m new to The Unused Substitutes and you’ve likely never heard of me. My name’s Corey and I’m an addict. I’m addicted to soccer and – apparently – working for free. So, I’ve agreed to write a weekly Tactical Analysis column for TUS. I’ve no idea why they even asked me, but I’ll let them fix their own mistake down the road.
If you follow the North American Soccer League extremely closely, you might’ve seen some of my articles last year. I did a similar Tactical Analysis series for the now non-existent Atlanta Silverbacks FC, which I can only conclude is the reason the Silverbacks have now gone extinct.
I’m a massive soccer fan and a recent migrant to the Tampa area. I’ve adopted the Rowdies as my newest passion and hope to help – if you’ll have me – in the club’s continued success by spreading news and spitting out gobbledygook on the pages of the World Wide Web. You may find that you disagree with my opinions at times, and that’s fine. In fact, I encourage it. The quickest way to improvement – whether it be in club sports, wordsmithing, or anything else – is through debate and reasoning. So, if you have suggestions or questions, feel free to find me!
[All outrage and requests for my firing should be addressed to Matt and Dan directly.]
Now, without further adu – see what I did there? – and not much fanfare, I present to you my first Tactical Analysis for The Unused Substitutes:
In the opening match of the Suncoast Invitational, the Tampa Bay Rowdies took on Major League Soccer’s DC United. Unfortunately, the Green-and-Gold walked away with a one goal deficit (Yes, play should have been stopped. Yes, it rolled out of bounds). There were some promising things, though. Here’s a bit of analysis from the match:
Michael Nanchoff – The Engine
To be fair to the Rowdies, their still in preseason mode. As such, they’ve yet to really gel and connect. One player that might enforce those connections a little quicker is former Portland Timber Michael Nanchoff.
In the first half, Nanchoff showed both his offensive and defensive skill. He struggled to really get things going with Walter Ramirez, but it was easy to tell that there could be a great partnership down the road. Defensively, Nanchoff was able to seamlessly switch to his back foot, constantly forcing his opponent to the flank or grabbing the ball himself. Check this one out:
Nanchoff gets a lucky deflection – it doesn’t appear that Mwanga actually got to it, bring the ball forward and rips off a shot. Unfortunately, it goes high. The interesting part about this, though, is that only moments later Nanchoff tracks all the way back into his 18-yard-box to make a sliding deflection on an attempted cross.
Nanchoff is, on a very basic level, a combination of Junior Burgos and Juan Guerra. Guerra sat behind Burgos, allowing the former Silverback to either work his way into the attack or swap spots with Kalif Alhassan (More on that later). To their left, Nanchoff did the combined work of Burgos and Guerra. He’s a technically-sound, forward-thinking box-to-box midfielder. If Tampa continues to operate in the 4-3-3, having a guy like Nanchoff is critical. So, raise your glass to the midfielder’s continued success.
Mwanga v. Heinemann
It was obvious last season that Tommy Heinemann is a force with which to be reckoned. He’s big, he’s energetic, and he can – most of the time – score. The first half of Saturday night’s match was left to Danny Mwanga, though.
The 24-year-old showed a little promise, but was largely ineffective when compared to Heinemann on the night. So, who will get the go-ahead on April 2nd? It will probably Heinemann and here’s why.
Mwanga needs to beef up the physicality. Heinemann’s ability to not only win balls in the air, but play with his back to goal is impeccable. In a 4-3-3, this is even more important. Wingers are pushed to the outside, leaving midfielders to help in the central attack. However, because those wingers are pushed up-and-out, defensive duties fall heavily on the central midfielders. This leaves a great deal of space between midfield and attack that the forward must hold by himself. If he can’t hold the ball long enough for a midfielder to push up, the attack evaporates.
Another thing that Heinemann does very well is pressure opposing defenders. During the DC game, he constantly peeled off the shoulders of opposing defenders. Take this one for example:
Heinemann peels off the defender’s shoulder, uses his strength to knock him down, then makes a play for goal. Often, he then moved the ball wide, held it until help arrived, and dropped the ball back to restart the attack. This doesn’t happen if he isn’t constantly toeing the line of the central defense. Conversely, Mwanga consistently backed off the defenders, allowing them space to operate and putting bodies between himself and the net.
Both Heinemann and Mwanga have a ton of grit and potential and Mwanga showed that he’s willing to fight for the ball on more than a couple of occasions. Heinemann also had the added benefit of Georgi Hristov playing close to him. Both players fit the system well, they just need to work on a couple things to really maximize the attack.
Skipping the Backline
Build out of the back. Build out of the back? Yes. Build out of the back. Why? It eliminates 50-50 balls further down the field and if a team can control possession, they can control the game (Ex. –Barcelona and Spain in their prime). Some might say that building out of the back is a difficult task. Often, pressure from opposing forwards forces mistakes from flat-footed defenders. With all of that being said, the Rowdies have decided to just skip the backline altogether.
From a goal kick, it is a common occurrence for fullbacks to slide further behind the 18-yard-box and closer to the goalkeeper to retrieve the ball. Normally, the central defenders will press ahead a little, too. This gives the fullback the option of playing down the flank or serving back centrally if an opposing attacker decides to press in on him. What is not so common is for both central defenders to press out to the flanks, leaving a massive hole – about the size of the 18-yard-box – in the middle of the park.
This was the plan against DC United – and it was a dangerous one. First, let’s look at the reason behind it. A – It pushes the fullbacks further up the field, thereby getting more players into attacking positions. B – It allows the keeper (if playing the ball centrally) to completely skip the backline and get the ball to a midfielder (Guerra in this case), thereby igniting the attack at a quicker pace at the feet of someone who is technically sound.
Why is it not a good idea? Well, for starters, there’s that massive hole right in front of the net that only Guerra is in position to properly cover. Secondly, it puts your – typically – slowest defenders even further away from their positions than normal, making it unlikely that they will be able to get back in time to help defensively. Lastly, if the ball is played to a central defender onto the flanks, the opposite flank-roaming central defender has to drift himself back into the middle. If an opposing team pressures the man with the ball, this creates a very awkward, dangerous, and singular passing outlet for the defender.
These awkward passes happened a couple times over the course of Saturday night. Luckily for the Rowdies, United wasn’t able to capitalize – though, they did come pretty close once. If the opponent has a in-cutting winger – let’s say Luciano Acosta or…I don’t know…LANCE LAING –, this possible screw up is a dream.
Look at this:
Sanfilippo has moved to the flank and is very high up the pitch. He loses the ball and the pass is given to Acosta, who is exploiting all of the space between the two central defenders. The two Rowdies who are backtracking are actually midfielders Guerra and Walter Ramirez.
The entire idea of pushing the center-backs out wide isn’t my gripe. My gripe is just how wide they’re getting. It causes too much empty space in the middle of the park that is just begging to be exploited. The point is this: there are positives and there are negatives, but the Rowdies’ defense needs to be on its A game for this to work properly.