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Ryan Nelsen Talks Formations With Defoe and Bradley at Toronto FC

The second-year manager will oversee a number of new, high-quality pieces at Toronto FC. Nelsen spoke about the 4-4-2, his fullbacks, speed and athleticism and the threat of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.

Leiweke, Defoe, Bradley, Nelsen and Bezbatchenko, a bloody big deal, indeed!
Leiweke, Defoe, Bradley, Nelsen and Bezbatchenko, a bloody big deal, indeed!
Jag Gundu

How will Toronto FC stack up in 2014?

With Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley signed, sealed and delivered, we asked him just that! 

In 2013, Nelsen primarily used the 4-4-2 formation, and when asked if he had given any mind to new combinations with these new pieces in the roster, Nelsen answered confidently. 

"Yup, of course," said Nelsen, when asked if he had any new formations in mind. "If you want to talk about formations, when we attack, we don’t attack in a 4-4-2. Just because you put them out in a defensive situation, it doesn’t mean when you have the ball, you end up being in a 4-4-2. We end up being a 2-4-4 a lot of the times when we attack or a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3."

"When you have the ball, it’s about attacking with balance," Nelsen continued. "When you get into your defensive shape, I’ve always thought that 4-4-2 has the most balance across the field. I’ve always liked that without the ball, but when you talk about it with the ball, we’re a lot of formations depending on our strength going forward."

Let's play the coaching game, shall we?

Up top, you have Defoe and Gilberto, of course, with Andrew Wiedeman and, potentially (should he remain with the club and not be traded), Bright Dike in support. 

In midfield, you have Michael Bradley and one of Jonathan Osorio, Kyle Bekker, Jeremy Hall and Dwayne De Rosario in the middle. Matias Laba remains a question mark but if he stays with the team despite the fourth Designated Player spot, he should be a great partner to Bradley in midfield. On the wings, Alvaro Rey, Jackson, Osorio and de Rosario would be the obvious options. 

We'll assume Joe Bendik starts in net. The back line should have Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry starting at centre back, with a combination of Ryan Richter, Mark Bloom, Ashtone Morgan or Justin Morrow starting on either end. These fullbacks are crucial to the success of the team moving forward. 

"I love athletic fullbacks and Justin will provide that," said Nelsen. "He’s experienced; he can also play centre back or defensive midfield, which he did in university. Jackson, again, the versatility of him and his experience in MLS, but with speed and power – for all the fans out there who watched, it’s something that we did lack, speed and power in our team."

"It can frighten back lines when you've got that athleticism which obviously opens up space," Nelsen added.

There are a few triangles on the field worth noting: the combination of Mark Bloom and Alvaro Rey worked well last season, and adding Michael Bradley to the right side of midfield should create a tight trio that can be very quick and mobile. On the left, De Rosario, Morrow and Jackson should form a trio that works a little more deliberately, capable of beating defenders one-on-one and creating chances through intelligence and athleticism. 

Defoe and Gilberto's mobility should mean that there will be less long balls send flying forward and more measured movement in midfield. Defoe will ride the line while Gilberto could be used as a deeper lying forward, perhaps the link between De Rosario and Defoe. At this point, it's safe to say that De Rosario will see significant playing time with the club, splitting responsibilities with Osorio in midfield. 

Plenty of quality across the board for a TFC team that Leiweke says will still see further reinforcements before the season begins in March. 

"When you’re bringing that type of quality players, I think it’ll be a wee bit of a different scenario," said Nelsen. "But, again, that’s stuff that we’re going to work on because you don’t just flip on a switch and everything’s nice and everybody plays well. There’s going to time to get the relationships, get the passing sequences going. It takes time to get everybody on the same wavelength."