Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis is known for running a very particular formation that we have all been watching this season, the diamond 4-4-2. Recently, this formation has come under a maelstrom of criticism, and fodder for the keyboard cowboys and the calls for change, some of which seem rather drastic.
With the playoffs all but a distant dream for the current season, what are some formations that the Lions could line up in to mix things up, and test the current roster for building for next season? I have a few ideas.
What We Commonly See
Change out a few names here and there, but this is pretty much how the Lions have set up tactically for the past few months. Players have looked uncomfortable tactically with this setup for months. Seemingly without an obvious sign from the bench, the formation seems to drift between the diamond and a flat 4-4-2 and back again.
In as many matches as I can recall — and the string of defeats and poor performances is all starting to blend together — this formation has seemingly allowed teams to take advantage of Orlando City in the middle third. There seems to be a lack of control in the middle third, passing is rarely fluid, and there is a vacuum of creativity.
Long balls can work, but when one of your strikers, Cyle Larin, is a target striker, you need to work more on possession and build up from the middle, to give the wings a chance to run, and to give Larin, and now Dom Dwyer, time to find the lanes and make those runs in between the center backs. The diamond seemed to work again in our last match against D.C. United with the following line up:
It was a better outing for the Lions, yielding three very critical points on the road during this rough stretch of away matches and preserving the slim hope of sneaking into the playoffs. The D.C. United match also created some personnel issues, as card accumulation and red cards will now mean that Seb Hines and Servando Carrasco are not available (red cards), as well as Kaká (card accumulation), and possibly Cristian Higuita depending on the severity of the knock he picked up.
With all that being said, here are some options that could be considered as possible formations and starting XI combinations for the upcoming matches.
Orlando has the speed on the outside with multiple players, so why not throw a little caution to the wind and try a formation that more controls the entirety of the middle third? This will put a sometimes questionable back line on the hot seat, as this formation requires excellent communication and extremely quick reactions.
I like this formation for many reasons, although I am not convinced that the Lions have the perfect personnel for it. Yoshi and Rivas are interchangeable on the left, and I really like the thought of those two working together with pace on the same side. The right side is a little tougher to figure out. Scott Sutter is the obvious choice on the wing, and I would like to see Powers start to help with possession in the middle third and get things started.
Giles Barnes would be another good idea for this spot, as he has shown that he can go box to box. Just look at his performance in the last match. Antonio Nocerino is the perfect guy to hold the middle. He did well playing on the right in the last match, despite being out of position, and placing him in the middle puts him in a more comfortable defensive midfield position for him, but also means he will have to track forward and be a part of the attack.
Actually, more of a 3-1-4-1-1, but that gets a little daunting to type every time. A slight shift from the 3-5-2, this would shift Nocerino down into more of a true central defensive midfield position, and drop Dom Dwyer beneath Larin.
Due to the nature of needing some control in the midfield, I have left Rivas on the bench as a sub.
One that I am still trying to figure out is the 3-4-3. It requires speed in your central defenders (I would only put Tommy Redding in the category of Lions with some speed at the position), a midfield that can dominate possession (which I do not think Orlando has done all season), and a front three with tons of movement (well, do I need to repeat what some people think of one of our key strikers?). All that being said, I think the addition of Yoshi and the current form of Barnes could lend themselves nicely to this type of formation.
Orlando City will be missing some key players for at least the next match, and it may be time to give some of the young guns a chance with the first team — two young men in particular, Pierre Da Silva and Hadji Barry. Barry has been on the bench for a number of matches this season, and has logged only 11 minutes as a substitute. On the other hand, Da Silva has had only a cameo with the first team (one single minute back in March). They have both been doing very well playing with OCB, with Barry being the current leading scorer for the young Lions, with eight goals, and Da Silva being the assist leader with seven.
If the playoff chances go to zero, which they are not quite there yet, then I would fully expect to see some changes in personnel on the pitch, and experimental formations to help guide the staff into next season.
I would really like to hear your thoughts on formations going forward. The general consensus I see is that not many fans are convinced that the 4-4-2 diamond is the formation that will lead us to the playoffs. Let me have it in the comments. I am looking forward to this discussion!