Sporting KC at Columbus Crew: 4-5-1 > 4-3-3?

Julio Cesar's face says it all about Sporting KC's loss against Columbus Crew last Saturday - it was tough to watch.

One last look back at last Saturday's loss before we move onto this weekend's matchup. This one comes from The Daily Wiz author SombraAla.

Ok, so you don't have to have me tell you that our beloved Sporting Kansas City didn't really create much offense in Columbus Crew over the weekend.  If you weren't watching it yourself, you've definitely heard that the much-vaunted Sporting KC offense was nowhere to be seen on Saturday.  Of course, it's always difficult to determine if it was just an off day for the guys up front or if Columbus's defense is really just that good to make what seems to be a very potent offense look downright tame.  

I do wager that, like most things, it's a bit of both.  Columbus has already gotten a reputation for being pretty good defensively this year... but I can't help but feel that the trio of C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara just didn't have the 'stuff' in Columbus.  Bunbury looked particularly out-of-sorts and was unable to showcase the skills of a player primed for a move across the pond.  

In addition to the forwards, the entire midfield seemed to struggle as well, which actually probably factors in quite a bit into why the offense was largely invisible.  Passes seemed to be made straight to the opposition on numerous occasions and on the defensive end they didn't seem to get the pressure on the ball that our whole-team defense is known for.

All of this lead me to wonder - could it possibly be that the formation the Crew employed(4-5-1) negated the formation used by Kansas City(4-3-3)? 

Put short: yes, I think it did, for the most part.  What, you were expecting more than that after the break? Fine, fine... I guess you do deserve more than a simple 'yes' for all your effort of clicking that link.

Let me start out by saying this.  I hate the 4-5-1.  Sure, it's a wonderful formation... if you don't feel like scoring goals is an important part of the game of soccer.  Go ahead and use it when you're up in a home-and-home series... but outside of that, I just don't see it useful for anything other than boring the spectators to death.  I'd go as far as to say that it could possibly be considered a crime.  Yes, I am over-simplifying - there are occasions where 4-5-1's can actually produce watchable soccer, but basically if I see the opposition line up in a 4-5-1 I think "Oh, great" and if my team lines up in a 4-5-1 then I can even get upset about it.

When you simply look at the numbers, one thing should stand out - the Crew were playing with five midfield players against Sporting's three... that's two extra midfield players.  Two extra players is a huge impact when dealing with picking up clearances from the back and intercepting passes, two things I thought the Crew dominated Sporting on during the game.  Look only as far as the Crew's lone goal - it was a clearance from the back which fell to a Crew player, resulting in the ball coming right back again.  Time after time we had difficulties keeping possession after obtaining it in defense.

As far as intercepting passes, the Crew's ability to clog up the midfield and block our passing lanes to the forwards was a huge part of why it seemed that the three up top didn't see very much of the ball.  With so many extra players in midfield, the Crew were able to both pressure the ball and block the passing lanes, resulting in our players having no time to pick their head up and find the right pass to the right player.  

What ultimately ended up happening was that Kamara and Sapong had to drop back to the midfield to pick up the ball - which basically converted the 4-3-3 into a 4-5-1. Ick.

So, what's the verdict?  Well, there's a little more to this particular situation, and that was the weather in Columbus.  Sustained winds near 20mph and rain make for some pretty horrible conditions for soccer.  While it's true that both teams played in the same weather (so it's not like I'm blaming this on the weather or anything), high winds and a wet surface do make it considerably harder to hit long passes with much success.  

This hampered an important part of our 4-3-3 and that is hitting balls over the top... or at least the threat of being able to do so.  With players as fast and strong as Kamara, Bunbury and Sapong, the ability to bypass the midfield is a very potent weapon, but we were unable to execute this with any success.  When we were going with the wind the balls would just go long to the keeper, and when against the wind they would get held up and either not make it out of midfield or become easy pickings for the Crew defense.  

Not being able to bypass the midfield where we were out-manned 5 to 3 was a huge hindrance for Sporting, but the Crew didn't have nearly the problems with the weather as they relied on shorter passes through the midfield to build-up play.  

So did the 4-5-1 beat the 4-3-3? In this case, yes, but I don't know if you could say that it will always do better.  If both teams are still using the same tactics by the time Columbus comes back to KC then I will be very interested in seeing how that game turns out in different circumstances.

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