Last Saturday, Saint Louis FC faced off against Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park. The two teams played a very normal match in the first half. Chances were made and shots were taken by both sides throughout. The most exciting part of the first half for STLFC was the first five minutes of play. They came out running hard and sending three consecutive balls over the top to forward Irvin Herrera. He took his chances, but either couldn’t quite finish or was called offside (at this point I’m going to assume he’s still finding his form and recovering from a nagging lower body issue). The second half saw a struggling Tulsa side bunker up to look for an away draw. Once that happened, STLFC took their chances, but weren’t able to crack the egg that was a nine man parked bus of a Roughneck defense. I’d like to lay out what I see as our current tactical options and propose a third option that I haven’t seen from St. Louis so far.
Tactic 1: send direct balls over the top into the final third. Send a ball long and hard to a forward for him to pull down and score, or get fouled in order to possess the ball or gain a goal on set pieces/free kick. I am certain GM Jeremy Alumbaugh brought in Chad Bond, with his sniper-like aim on the long ball, for this very purpose (among others of course). This tactic is something I’ve been seeing more and more in the USL now that I’m aware of it. Perhaps it’s been that way for a while, but here I am noticing it now. I’m open to corrections. That said, this tactic can and has worked for STLFC, but once the defense is wise to it, or figures out how to defend it, the tactic seemingly loses effectiveness throughout the game. Direct play is also often paired with defense first style teams, which we are. In some ways, it is very smart to employ this tactic, as it pairs perfectly with our natural strengths.
Tactic 2: Counterattack. The game STLFC has looked best, or at least had the most exciting offensive production, was the one against Orange County Blues FC. OC Blues attacked our stout defense, we lured them in closer, stopped the attack, and hurriedly sent a ball forward, which Vince Cicciarelli twice found at his feet with one guy to beat, if that. Beauty. I was all ready to do a play-by-play comparison to Jamie Vardy and Leicester City in the next pod (rehabilitating, unapologetic, overreacting homer here). This tactic is great. This tactic is fun. This tactic doesn’t work if the other team doesn’t attack. Enter: second half of the STLFC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks game. Tulsa got through the first half unscathed—0-0. They came out in the second half, not aiming for a win, but putting nine players behind the ball to get a draw. Tactic 2: no longer an option.
Tactical option 3: Add another attacking option. If you’re forced to try and break through a nine-man defense and you’re playing with a 4-2-3-1 personnel grouping, you send more players forward. In St. Louis’ case, whether he was told to or not, James Musa becomes an attacker and defender. Take a box-to-box midfielder and make him a back line to back line superman. Please don’t confuse that sentence with any lost love for Musa. This guy wants the ball, wants the win, and will do anything necessary to make it happen. You have to love that in a player. However, why not take a defensive minded player that CAN attack, and sub in a player whose every day, sole purpose, is to get a ball and make it go in the back of the net?
The question is, does STLFC have a target forward? In the play-by-play during the last game, Bill Mcdurmott declared that Irvin Herrera prefers running onto a ball rather than having his back to the goal. He needs that number ten to give him that ball on a run. In my talks with Vince Cicciarelli, you get the feeling that people have forced him into the target forward role mostly due to his comparative large frame in soccer. He more considers himself a number nine, but at least he has experience as a ten. Jordan Roberts? In my limited experience watching Jordan play, I’ve noticed how good he is finding people on runs and keeping the ball at his feet. Mark Pais, in a recent interview on the This Is Silly podcast by the St. Louligans, stated that Irvin Herrera and Jordan Roberts were the trickiest finishers in training. I definitely don’t think Jordan has put it all together on the pitch yet, but perhaps by season end…etc. etc.
Another reason to give this a try is that STLFC’s defense has been so strong. If an opposing team bunkers up, and our defense is well aware of a counterattack possibility, then I think they would be plenty strong to hold up against a two-man attack. I envision a 4-1-3-2. Again, just swap a defensive midfielder for a forward. It’s a similar shape to what they were holding before, and with a strong defensive midfielder in the back (perhaps James Musa or Tyler David), it would allow the attacking five to feel comfortable to play on without worry of repercussion. Think: Men’s National Team when Beckerman is the sweeper. It might also look a bit like the diamond, which STLFC used to good effect in the beginning of the season last year--a formation Dale Schilly knows well.
Finally, I want to follow up with some warrants to my argument. This option is only for home games—a time when we need three points more than we do on the road. It will also give the sellout crowds at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park what they crave: a high pressuring offense. My final warrant is that I am in no way a tactician, and these thoughts are not a demand or even a criticism of Dale Schilly in any way. These thoughts are more a conversation starter. I’m very curious to hear what people think of the idea so that we can all be entertained and maybe even educated. So have at it St. Louis, if you will. -PG