This is the first season the Rowdies seem to be experimenting with a new formation style. Teams of the past have only dabbled in variations of the 4-4-2, from the flat to the diamond. While fans are excited that the team has decided to start using different formations the glow went out fast. Switching to a 1 striker formation has only come back to hurt the Rowdies, a team that only found the net 33 times last season, tied for second least with the Armada. And the start to this season feels like a repeat..scoring only 3 goals so far in 4 matches. From a team with so much midfield creativity and some of the best striking ability in the league with Georgi Hristov and Tom Heinemann, this should be a team with the ability to at least score a goal per game.
So whats the problem that is making the team click in such an odd fashion? Formation appears to be a key. There will be props given to Coach Stuart Campbell for going beyond his knowledge of the 4-4-2 from last season, but his choice of formation may not be the right fit for the team. The Rowdies appear to be running a 4-2-3-1, two defensive midfielders, three attacking, and one striker. With the Rowdies lack of listed forwards this formation, on paper, seems like the best option the team has. But Heinemann is still fitting his way into this new team, and the team has yet to produce a goal of quality like the ones seen in Ottawa’s run to the playoff last year. As well, playing the attacking midfielders in almost a dynamic pattern and constantly switching position is pushing players like Hristov on the wing, who seems to have almost no ability in playing that position. Not because of fault of his own, but because his natural position drifts between attacking midfield and center-forward. The only player currently in the Rowdies ‘Attacking Line” who seems to fit in place is Kalif Alhassan. His pace and creativity, and good footing, allow him to shift in between wing and center of the park to produce some of the best moments so far. The weakest link in the offence so far is that players of high quality and that actually fit the formation better than the selected 11 each week continue to ride the bench, Darwin Espinal whose pace and creativity would mesh perfectly in the dynamic attack; or do not even make the bench to be considered for even a substitute, such as Freddy Adu.
With the ‘Defensive Line’ there is no complaint, the back line and quality of Pickens has led only to concede just one goal in three matches before facing the already red hot Carolina Railhawks, who its should be noted have found the net 9 times in their first 4 games. The game against Carolina was much like a prediction, it was most likely going to happen despite the fan’s wanting to believe it would not. As well of the 3 goals the Rowdies have scored so far in the Spring Season, one of them was scored by center-back Tamika Mkandawire assisted by other center-back Neill Collins. So if the defensive is good and and attack needs work, why do the Rowdies continue to use this formation? Producing 3 goals in 4 matches can only be acceptable if the scoreline is kept 1-0 and if Campbell is attempting to play the team in the style of the 2015 Premier League Champion’s Chelsea, the Rowdies are already receiving the rude wake up call Chelsea received this year.
Something needs to be done fast, and there is no question that formation is a huge fault that is causing the Rowdies to go down a path much like that of the 2014 team that finished in 8th combined. Watching the field the long balls from the back line are too eerily similar of the Rowdies worst ever season, but its natural to return to what feels natural when threatened. There are two solutions, either they keep the 4-2-3-1 and play it with players that actually fit the formation such as this:
4: Portillios/Sweat, Tamika, Collins, King/Portillios
2: Guerra, Nanchoff
3: Alhassan, Hristov/Adu, Espinal/King
With Heinemann as the focal point, Alhassan, Espinal, and King on the wing roles will give added pace to the attack to assist Heinemann while allowing him to free his space with defenders marking the wings more
Guerra will sit back as the full defensive mid and have Nanchoff drift in the basic center-mid role, allowing him to push slightly while Guerra holds back.
Or the alternative, with the type of players on the Rowdies roster depth a 4-3-3 False Nine. To those who do not know what the false nine is, it is essentially a 4-3-3, however instead of the striker acting as a complete forward, or a 9 role, the drift slightly back being able to create space and play the ball into faster attackers out on the wings. If they were to utilize this formation this is what it should look like:
4: Portillios/Sweat, Tamika, Collins, King/Portillios
3: DM- Guerra, CM- Nanchoff, Avila/Burgos
3 LW- Alhassan, RW- Espinal/King, CF-Hristov/Adu/Heinemann
Instead of the center-forward in this role being the striking force the wings act as the main unit of providing goals. In the NASL physicality is a huge deal, but pace proves to be important especially with refereeing not always being able to catch the offside. This formation uses either Hristov, Adu, or Heinemann as a pendulum to swing the ball into fast wingers such as Espinal and Alhassan.
Again Guerra sits as a dedicated defensive mid, with Nanchoff and either Burgos or Avila as center-mid roles being able to attack or press back with Guerra. This formation is borderline perfect for the types of players within the Rowdies depth and Campbell should try experimenting with something other than what he has been playing, and at this point why not try the false nine.