Three new coaches, three tactical thoughts

MLSsoccer.com's Steve Davis analyzes Backe, de los Cobos and Nowak

Hans Backe, New York Red Bulls

Photo Credit: 
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So now we know. We had hunches and suspicions about
how three particular debuting managers would align their sides prior to
MLS opening weekend—but you never really know until you know. You
know?

New York’s Hans Backe and Chicago’s Carlos de los Cobos
were new managers to MLS. We’ve seen Peter Nowak’s handiwork before at
D.C. United, but now he pulls strings at expansion Philly, which is
clearly a whole new jar of Cheez Whiz. (Nowak, in particular,
approached his selections of personnel and tactics with a “State
Secret” level of caution.)

In preseason, Backe had shown himself
to be a 4-4-2 guy, and sure enough, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Joel
Lindpere were central in a “straight line” four-man midfield.

Across
the field, de los Cobos opted for a diamond midfield. Logan Pause
screened the defense while Peter Lowry, and later, Baggio Husidic,
worked closer to the strikers. So much for innovation.

Nowak
also went with a 4-4-2. Here, it wasn’t the alignment but the choice of
personnel within that alignment that drew attention—and reminded
everyone that it’s more about players than tactical deployment.

Philly
started Michael Orozco and Danny Mwanga in the middle. Orozco is a
defender, inserted awkwardly and surprisingly into a central midfield
role. Mwanga is a forward, inserted awkwardly and surprisingly into the
same. All of Mwanga’s scorer’s instincts, all that size, skill and
athleticism seemed wasted on a player clearly not comfortable with the
360-degree bustle encircling him in his first pro game.

Regardless,
Philadelphia’s shape and personnel were never going to matter so long
as Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso was lurking. The Sounders’ little fireball
of a defensive midfield destroyer was all over the place, back to his
early 20009 best. So Mwanga and Orozco, stationed centrally opposite
Alonso and Brad Evans, were at a loss from the word “go.”

Notes from the Chalkboard:

San Jose manager Frank Yallop made a great
adjustment at halftime, removing one his brainy little skill saws in
the middle of the park in favor of a sledge hammer. Brazilian Andre
Luiz
and Argentine Javier Robles started
centrally in Yallop’s 4-4-2. But they were being out-worked and pretty
much out-everythinged by Kyle Beckerman and Will
Johnson
, who was stationed nominally wide left but worked
inside liberally. So Robles came off for Brandon McDonald,
who added considerable steel and effectiveness.

Problem was, San
Jose already trailed by two goals at that point.

It will be
interesting to watch Collins John and Brian
McBride
play in tandem in Chicago—though de los Cobos has said
he’s not sure if he’ll do it. The pair partnered formerly at Fulham,
but the reality is they might cancel each other out. John likes
receiving service with his back to goal and the ball at his feet—a
classic target man. If a defender is crawling up his shirt from behind,
well, he seems OK with that. And we know this because he spent
significant portions of his MLS debut (as a sub) reminding his Chicago
teammates through word and gesture. McBride, of course, is also a
classic target presence. So, de los Cobos either must find a way to
blend their similar skills or stick with Patrick Nyarko in the
big-man-little-man combo he started with against New York.

Geoff
Cameron’s
first run-out as a central midfielder? Eh. He never
really found the game, although he did finally pinpoint a couple of
moments after the intermission to stretch those long legs and run at FC
Dallas’ defense.

Remember all the talk of Landon
Donovan
finally gaining a settled role? For LA late last year,
for Everton in the winter and for Bob Bradley’s national team, Donovan
has recently spent his time out wide on the left. It has worked
brilliantly. So in the Galaxy’s 2010 MLS opener he was … yep, at
striker. Donovan partnered Edson Buddle at forward
while Eddie Lewis lined up on the left and Mike
Magee
on the right. Go figure.

Backe wants his
fullbacks getting forward, adding pressure through extra numbers. Roy
Miller
listened. And how. He pushed forward liberally,
overlapping left midfielder Danleigh Borman. And
Chicago midfielder Julio Martinez never made Miller
pay for it. Say what you will about former Fire attacker Cuauhtemoc
Blanco
, but he’s the kind of player who would have noticed
and exploited Miller’s risky bravado.

Rapids boss Gary Smith
provided the week’s surprise, inserting Marvell Wynne
into the center of Colorado’s defense, alongside Drew Moor.
This meant Kosuke Kimura kept his spot on the right
for now. Wynne looked good, using that trademark recovery speed to
atone for occasional slipups. (Although Wynne was lucky not to concede
an early penalty kick when he ran down—literally—Chivas USA’s Maykel
Galindo
.)