Rather than go with the obvious things that every other person like me has probably already hashed out (lack of scoring and goals allowed), I’m gonna look at a few things that I think have absolutely plagued this team.
The double shield (Laba + <insert partner here>)
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I am a Matias Laba fan. I have been since the Caps swiped him from TFC. What I am not a fan of, is of the so called ‘double shield’ that the Caps and a lot other teams use. Whether it’s the obvious 4-2-3-1 or not so obvious 4-4-2, I don’t like it.
With 9 of 10 games completed or underway, 11 of the 18 teams are using the 4-2-3-1, with only the Whitecaps and San Jose using a flat 4-4-2, while NYCFC, Montreal and SKC used a 4-3-3. DC lined up in a 4-1-4-1 and TFC was in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Why does this matter? I don’t like the 4-2-3-1 because it’s too reliant on your top 4, and if you’re deploying your attacking mid properly, like I don’t believe the Caps are, becomes rather predictable and easy to defend. It’s also reliant on having a forward who can hold the ball up or who can create on his own with back to goal. Right now, the only forward the Caps have who has any sort of track record doing that is Perez, who seems to be stuck on the bench. No disrespect to Giles Barnes, I just haven’t seen enough from him to say that he’s capable of doing that.
In recent matches, Robbo has deployed a 4-4-2 with Morales and Laba in the middle. I don’t have a problem with the formation itself, moreso than who Robinson is deploying in it. Yes, both Morales and Laba are DPs, and in a salary cap league, the manager opens themself up to criticisms one or more gets left out of the 18. However, given that Laba is virtually a 5th defender, Robinson’s 4-4-2 turns more into a 4-1-3-2, however, that all goes to hell when Morales drops deeper than Laba, for reasons I’ll never understand. When that happens, there’s a massive gap up the spine of the field as Laba doesn’t attack very often and Morales drops back. In essence, you’ve created a back 4 block of Waston/Edgar/Laba/Morales with your only link between the backline and the rest of the midfield being your fullbacks (Harvey and Smith). Now, they normally get forward quite often, but often hustle to provide some backside pressure on opposing forwards.
Getting back to Laba, whether it’s trying to cover after Morales tries to carry the ball forward and fails, and in the process waves at the opposing mid as he runs by, or trying to cover for Smith, he seems to be trying to do too much and getting pulled out of position, potentially exposing two centrebacks who aren’t the most mobile guys around.
What I’m getting at is that, given the current make-up of the roster, I believe a formation change to 4-1-4-1 makes a lot of sense.
Bola and Hurtado can support Barnes in attack, in essence, attacking as a 4-3-3 and defend as a 4-2-3-1 with Jacobson dropping back. To me, the key to this is Jacobson. He’s versatile enough to drop back and defend, either beside Laba or even further back. The only caveat is that, by gameplan, the furthest I’ve had AJ go forward is halfway between midfield and the attacking 18, knowing that you’ve already got 4 guys and potentially 1 fullback attacking.
While he led this team to growth in his first couple years in charge while straddled with having to keep those entrusted to be stewards of our club happy. Not an easy task, as I can only imagine.
Where I can find some fault is his choice of formation and utilization of some players. As I pointed out above, the usage of Pedro is one of my issues. As advertised, he is an attacking midfielder. His defensive prowess is that of mine, which if any of you have seen me play, generally involves turning around and waving at the guy who just took the ball from me. Okay, it’s not that bad, but it’s not something I’d want from my highest paid player. Needless to say, seeing Pedro lined up beside Matias Laba bothers me to no end, whether it’s in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2.
I also sometimes wonder whether trying to beat size and power with speed is the right decision. I look at the Caps Cascadian brothers and see powerhouse CBs in Torres, Ridgewell and Borchers (when healthy) and wonder if playing Kudo, Barnes, Hurtado and Techera is smart. Next in line would be Blas Perez. He’s the closest thing the Caps have to a forward who can play with his back towards the goal. He also stands a chance of being able to go head-to-head with one of the 3 that I mentioned. At 35, he probably won’t win many of those battles, but asking Barnes (5’11”), Kudo and Hurtado (both 5’10”) to trying and get the upper on Ridgewell and Torres (both at 6’2”) is probably asking too much of them.
Yes, David Ousted has made the same miraculous saves he was making last year, but I believe the quality chances given up resulting in goals against, as skyrocketed this year. And of course, I have to mention the 6-10 points (and the Voyageurs Cup) the Caps pissed away because of defensive breakdowns at the end of games.
Despite there being like a 5% of the Caps making the playoffs, I say try and win the Cascadia Cup. Field a decent side on Wednesday to try and secure as high a seed as you can for the CCL QF round, where you will draw a good to pretty good team, regardless. With a planned European training camp, these guys will need to maximize their time off before reconvening for the 2017 campaign.