Preseason Preview Part Two: The Shape of the Team
FC Cincinnati has finished dead last in the league two years running. In order to escape that recent history, Cincinnati is going to need to play some half-decent soccer. Here's how they're going to do it, here's how they could do it, and here's how they should do it. Enough with the into, we have formations to dive into.
You cannot, contractually in fact, talk about FC Cincinnati without talking about The Netherlands. The Dutch. The tiny country that thumbed its nose at Neptune and decided to get really good at soccer instead of drowning. If I never hear another person say "The Dutch system" when talking about FCC, it'll be too soon. It is an undeniably attractive and interesting approach to soccer, it's Dutch, our general manager is Dutch, our manager is Dutch, many of the players have Dutch connections, so therefore FC Cincinnati must play this system.
Except, I'm not 100% sure if everyone here knows what this "Dutch System" is. So let's establish a baseline.
The Dutch System
I don't want to go too far back, but here are a few historical bullet points to make you look smart in the Bailey this season.
- "Total Football" was a part of a larger cultural movement in the Netherlands where everything had the word "Total" put in front of it and just means to understand the relationship, all the relationships, between things. It does not mean that every single player knows how to play every position.
- It was very reliant on pressing. In fact it's theorized that pressing didn't become popular in soccer until the 60's because Europe was still largely malnourished from World War Two. It takes a lot of fitness to pull it off.
- Players did move around and interchange in a 4-3-3, but it was almost all forwards and backwards movement in the early days, not side to side. If a full back went up, a winger would come back. If a midfielder moved up the pitch, a centerback would fill the void in the midfield. That's what made the Dutch system different from say, the Hungarian tactics that were popular in that time.
- So much of the players' movement and understanding of space came from being really good players who played a lot of soccer together. Yes, having really good players who are comfortable playing together produced good results!
Great, you have the history down. That'll get you to the 1974 World Cup. But it turns out, the Dutch have been playing soccer since then too! And they dropped playing with a sweeper along the way which means that "Dutch System" is old and dead. Here is your two word take away: "pressing" and "switching". That's the Dutch system. Nobody brings up pressing when talking about FCC do they?
The modern Dutch System is largely people trying to describe what Louis van Gaal has done throughout his managerial career. What that provides is a 4-3-3, where you either play with two defensive midfielders and one attacking midfielder, or the opposite, with two attacking midfielders and one defensive midfielder. That one attacking midfielder? That's a "10", the type of player The FC has failed to sign for 6 years and counting. And pretty key to pulling off the more attractive versions of those 4-3-3s.
What does this have to do with FC Cincinnati?
Not much, but people won't stop talking about "Dutch Systems" so I need to explain it here to tell you later on that FC Cincinnati doesn't run a "Dutch System" and I tell you all you need to knock it off.
If you want to get wild, you can do something else van Gaal has done in his career which is play a 3-4-3. Now there's two versions of a 3-4-3, there's the Italian 3-4-3 which uses wingbacks (If you're a Chelsea fan, you've seen this before), and there's the Dutch version which is a backline of 3 defenders, a diamond midfield with a 10 playmaker at the top, and three attackers across the front. This is wild. FCC should do this.
What Will FC Cincinnati Do?
Well, up until Monday, I would have said FC Cincinnati will play in a 4-3-3 with two defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder that they either haven't signed yet or they'll force some combination of Kubo, Cruz, or Mokotjo into. Last year that produced some of the most boring soccer every seen on an American field and an entire 12 goals scored. 4-3-3 it is then?
Not quite. Manager Jaap Stam, a very dutch person, said to the local media yesterday that FC Cincinnati is looking to play a 5-3-2 in addition to a 4-3-3.
In all of that historical rambling did I mention a 5-3-2? No I did not. This is not the "Dutch System". You've been lied to.
Stam sees this team as one playing with three centerbacks, two outside wingbacks, three midfielders, no wingers, and two strikers. That's a perfectly fine system, FCC ran it a bit last year and managed some results, notably Louis van Gaal did something like this in the 2014 World Cup and managed to get to the semi-finals.
But FC Cincinnati's roster isn't set up for this. Three centerbacks? Cincinnati only has four on the roster, what happens when two get hurt? Cincinnati doesn't have enough depth to do this. And wingbacks? That's a tricky position and there is currently just one, Matarrita, on the roster. Not to mention, FCC has, literally, seven different players who play on the wing and this formation calls for exactly zero wingers. If Stam wants to play a 5-3-2, nobody told Njikamp to buy those players.
What Will FC Cincinnati Actually Do?
They'll go with a 4-3-3. It's how this team was built. "You can tell by the way that it is" comes to mind. When you have four centerbacks on the roster, that means you have depth for two centerbacks. When you have seven wingers on the roster, that means you're playing an attacking three. Sure, guys can be sold, traded, flogged, cut, what have you, but training camp is starting now and this is what the roster looks like.
- Centerbacks: Hagglund, van der Werff, Pettersson, Abdul-Salaam
- Outsidebacks: Matarrita, Bailey, Gyau*, Mines*, Flanagan, Abdul Salaam*
- Midfielders: Amaya, Medunjanin, Mokotjo, Cruz, Stanko, Barreal*, Kubo*
- Wingers: Barreal, Kubo, Harris, Locadia, Mines, Gyau, Kovacevic*
- Strikers: Brenner, Vazquez, Locadia*, Kubo*, Kovacevic
Looking at this breakdown, the idea that this team would play with two strikers up top with no wingers seems crazy. It also seems crazy to play a system that relies entirely on outsidebacks to provide width when thre are barely two competent players at that position on this team. A 4-3-3 is the most logical thing to do from this position. Which means it won't happen, who am I kidding...
What Could FC Cincinnati Do?
Now this is a much more interesting question. Let's go back to that buck-wild 3-4-3 idea from The Netherlands. Here's what it could look like, with the roster FC Cincinnati has at the time of writing.
Is this dumb? Sure is. Is it any dumber than a 5-3-2? No, it's less dumb, because it actually uses wingers. Which the team has. There's also a lot of flexibility in what the midfield can do with different player combinations. You could play more defensive or more attacking (why would this need to be more attacking?) depending on the opponent.
Is that it?
Literally nobody read this thing past the historical explanation of the Dutch System so it's amazing to me you're asking for more. But in case a few of you slip by here's the last take away: this roster is incomplete. A team that finished dead last two years in a row has added just two starters and is expecting to do a lot better. That, on its face, seems absolutely insane. In all likelihood there are a few more moves being made by The FC before they'll feel the 2021 roster is complete. There has to be. Please. Depending on who comes in and who possibly leaves, a preferred formation will be made more clear.
What to Look for This Week
A signing. A new starter literally anywhere on the field. That's what we're looking for.