The recent series of offensive signings by the Vancouver Whitecaps have raised questions about how to get them all on the field at the same time. These discussions have focused around whether the Whitecaps would be better served to play with only one holding midfielder (Matías Laba) and use the additional position in a more offensive-minded capacity. This discussion on Eightysix Forever has focused on a) playing Morales beside Laba; b) bringing in a box-to-box midfielder such as Armando Cooper that could aid on defense but be prioritized on getting forward; or c) playing a two-striker formation with a combination of Kekuta Manneh, Octavio Rivero, and Masato Kudo. History suggests that option ‘A' appears most likely as the Whitecaps experimented last season with Morales playing deep beside Laba. We could get into what any changes to formation would mean for Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, and Deybi Flores, but that is a discussion for another day. The purpose of this article is to discuss an ‘Option D': 3 center back formation. The possibility of this was discussed here briefly last summer, but we are going to spend a bit more time explaining how it would look, who might fill the roles, and whether this is even feasible.
In a 3-4-3 formation, the backline is aided by one holding midfielder and requires excellent communication and organization between the backline and the midfield. The three center backs need to be tall, strong, and very good in the air. They need to be good at defending 1v1. They have zero offensive responsibilities (outside of dead ball situations).
The central two midfielders consist of one defensive and offensive midfielder. The DM will be a ‘destroyer' who is strong and physical, not afraid to tackle hard. They will be good in the air, great 1v1, and have a strong capacity to read the game. The AM will have great field vision and ball control, with exceptional passing and decision-making abilities. The AM needs to ‘want' the ball and always be trying to find space to receive the ball. They help score goals and are less focused on scoring themselves.
The outside midfielders need to be in good condition, as they are expected to be forward with the attack and assist on defense. They need to be strong attackers 1v1 and good at crossing the ball. When balls are crossed, there are 5 attacking players in the box
To minimize repetition, the CB, DM, and AM qualities required in the 3-4-3 formation are the same in the 3-5-2 formation. The difference is that there are now two defensive midfielders instead of one. In a 3-5-2 formation, the outside midfielders still need to be quick, skilled at taking on defenders 1v1, and crossing the ball. They tend to have medium to high defensive responsibilities
How Does This Work for the Whitecaps?
While I did not necessarily mean to write it this way, you might have noticed in the above that the traits listed for the center backs line up perfectly with Kendall Waston and Tim Parker, while the DM and AM descriptions are apt forPedro Morales and Laba (and maybe Teibert and Koffie). The challenges the Whitecaps face are in identifying that third CB, and determining whether the existing midfielders can play the outside midfielder roles. While Christian Bolanos is an unknown, to some degree, he does have plenty of international and club experience that would probably aid him. It is also important to point out that Costa Rica's national team plays a 3-CB formation. I have built how the 3-4-3 lineup would most likely appear, given the current personnel.
The Problem (and Solution?)
The key ‘problem' area is that third CB. The Whitecaps have a few options, should they want to go down this road. The most obvious is Christian Dean. Although inexperienced and possibly not at the same level as Parker, Dean does have the traits needed for a 3 CB formation. He is tall, strong, and good in the air. He is not the best communicator, but he did play extensively with Parker with the ThunderCaps last season and apparently the two were best of friends. I suspect that his communication with Parker and Waston would be good. In-house, another option is Jordan Harvey. While I see him as a potential ‘stop-gap', I do not seem him as a permanent solution as he is not tall or strong in the air. I see him being more suited for the outside midfielder position. Kah....we will leave that alone. Sam Adekugbe? Like Harvey, I see him more suited for the midfield role. He just is not tall or strong enough to play that CB role. Jordan Smith? MAYBE. He fits some of the criteria but he has appeared as far too much of a liability on defense for a 3 CB formation.
Another option is to use the upcoming MLS SuperDraft. There are a few options that might work. The long-time projected #1 pick Josh Yaro could possibly work. He is a bit undersized but is an incredible athlete that reads the game well. However, the Whitecaps would have to give up a lot to move up. Brandon Vincent is technically a LB, but he is a superb defender focused on the defensive side more than the offensive. Jonathan Campbell is another possibility as is Kyle Fisher, who is described as one of the best college central defenders when healthy. He is relentless and intense with poise, maturity and excellent positional sense. Finally, there is RB Dennis Castillo, who is a good organizer and has experience with the U-18 and U-20 Costa Rican teams, and thus potentially familiar with the 3 CB system. It is important to remember though that the 3 CB formation demands a lot from the back line and a young college player may not be the best avenue. Parker should be seen as the exception, not the norm.
Given the lack of quality typically found in the SuperDraft, the third option is for the Whitecaps to look outside North America. If the Whitecaps transfer Darren Mattocks and/or Koffie (or Teibert) then they might have the money to acquire a highly rated 30-ish CB. Liam Ridgewell would be a wonderful, older, fit. While not a possibility, it provides an example of who I am thinking about. I would expect that the long-term plan would be to put Dean in that role however.
Is This Possible?
The 3-4-3 Formation would be an interesting style for the Vancouver Whitecaps. It would certainly be unique in MLS and exciting to watch. It would make many fans happy as they would see Manneh in a more forward position and would allow the team's two main strikers (Rivero and Kudo) to be on the field together without sacrificing Manneh or Techera (or Bolanos). There have long been discussions about playing Laba as a single defending midfielder as he is certainly capable and appears to actually enjoy playing alone. Waston is the best in MLS in the air. Laba, Waston, and Ousted have played almost every game together for 1.5 seasons, so the communication has to be excellent by now. Parker certainly seems adept. It is that third CB that I believe is really holding this back. Oh, and that there has been no indication that Robbo is even considering this....but that is just a minor detail!
What are your thoughts? Do you see this as a possibility for the Vancouver Whitecaps? Do you feel the team has the personnel to play it? Let us know your thoughts in the poll and in the comments.