A couple of weeks back, Toronto FC went into Mexico City and tried a 4-3-3 against Pumas UNAM, and it almost went well, Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson both having good early chances well saved when the game was in the balance. It was always shaky at the back though, and without Milos Kocic matching the Pumas goalie's saves, it soon went horribly wrong and it was 4-0 at half time. In the second half, Torsten Frings dropped back, and though it seemed like Pumas took their foot off the pedal somewhat, and Milos Kocic still had good saves to make, which he did this time, that half finished 0-0, much better.
Before that game and since then as well, Frings has often been played at the back, as either the central defender in a 3-4-3, or as what looked like a traditional sweeper's role in a 5-2-3. His composure, organisational skills and reading of the game have given a valuable safety net to the "well, there's no-one else right now is there?" Centre back partnership of Andy Iro and Ty Harden. This gives them the confidence to do their job of marking the forwards knowing there's someone behind them, so any mistakes won't be quite as catastrophic as they might otherwise be. Games where TFC have done this, they've looked a little less potent going forward as the midfield definitely misses Frings' prescence, but it's clearly a very good thing for the defence. On Tuesday, in the return game against Pumas, unless the Mexicans take the game lightly and go back to playing their kids (and probably even if they play the kids this still applies), the defence is going to need all the help it can get.
The obvious problem of course is that for that game, Torsten Frings is suspended, but should TFC continue with that tactic, even without the man it's been built around so far and who really makes it tick? Can it still work? I say yes they should, and I'll less confidently say yes it can, maybe. All that and more (not really) after the jump.
Firstly, as that game in Mexico showed, trying to take the game to Pumas is likely a losing venture. I know all the arguments against that, that was away from home, in altitude, we almost scored and who knows what would have happened then, the best form of defence is attack, no-one wants to see 'Preki-ball' etc etc blah blah blah. Save it (Actually, don't. Feel free to comment. Love you guys! ahem.). I generally agree there's no need to be too defensive, and it's much nicer to watch an attack minded team, but a) to me at least results are much more important than style of play and b) especially with Frings and Attacking Midfielder Eric Avila out, we just don't have the weapons to go toe to toe with Pumas, let's not commit suicide here, bolstering the defence is just the smart thing to do.
But who should be that extra man? Richard Eckersley maybe. He's filled the Center Back role on an emergency basis earlier this season, with limited success, as well as been one of the Centre backs alongside Frings in a 3 man back line. If we went with the more attacking version of this, the 3-4-3, then Matt Stinson has shown his ability to play the Right Wing Back role, so that could work.
Ty Harden is another option, either in the preceding scenario, behind Iro and Eckersley, or especially if we go with the full on 5 at the back, which would necessitate Eckersley moving back to Right Back. Andy Iro is very clearly not suite to the sweeper role, but his physical style, combined with Doneil Henry's youthful agility and speed could be a decent combo, with Harden as the safety net behind them.
One option I think might have been very good is Kyle Davies. Of course I've never seen him play, but this description, from LAG Confidential's Ryan Rosenblatt makes me think he could do really well in that position.
Neither big nor fast, Davies is very reliant on his smarts and he does read the game well
That could almost exactly describe Torsten Frings, and would be perfect for a sweeper, alas Davies is registered in LA's squad for this tournament so can't play.
I think the only other plausible and available alternatives, in the converted midfielders category are Julian de Guzman and Nathan Sturgis. Given how few alternatives there are to play in midfield, there's no way De Guzman will be taken out, and Sturgis has been nowhere near the first team for a couple of months or so, so I really can't see him being thrown in there either.
I think the best option is Harden behind Iro and Henry with Eckersley and Morgan in the full back positions. I wouldn't advocate a full parking of the bus, I'd hope Eckersley and Morgan can get forward often to support the attack, and the extra man back there would enable them to do that. It's not perfect by any means, nowhere close, but given how weak the 4 man defence has looked, I think it's the best chance of getting at least the one point we need to keep the quarter final dream alive.