While the 4-1 thrashing Kansas City put on New England last weekend will probably be remembered for its unlikely hero (Birahim Diop), there's likely something that will get lost to time that was possibly a bit more important. Something that seemed so familiar at the time and has seemed so much more evident as the week has progressed.
The New England Revolution gave up their shot to win the game before the referee blew the whistle.
I'll use Peter Vermes' post-game quote to explain.
"What I was shocked about was that they went to a 3-5-2. I was not expecting that. I think it played to our favor, though.”
The 3-5-2. Can anyone recall off the top of their head what happened the last time an opposing team was naive enough to field a 3-5-2 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark?
Give yourself a bonus blog point if you said something along the lines of "Kansas City won the game in a goal avalanche that had many fans hoisting the MLS Cup.” Give yourself another bonus blog point if you remembered correctly that it was this year when D.C. United was in town to open the season
Which is why Saturday's game felt so familiar. New England and D.C. United had an idea they thought would work: Boss the midfield, negate the pressure. Of course, United had no idea what they were in for pressure-wise really.
The results were both the same: 4 goal wins by KC. (Oddly enough, both games featured 70th minute goals by Jack Jewsbury. His only two goals on the year by the by.)
On the surface, employing a three-man defensive line and a five-man midfield seems like a great idea on the small-ish pitch of the CAB. Of course, you can say the same thing about the trailers for every M. Night Shyamalan movie.
The truth is, if you try to "own" the midfield against a high-pressure team used to playing on a small-ish field and only leave three guys back to cover, you're going to get sliced open by a player who hadn't started a game in MLS in over 8 years.
The Wizards like to establish a high-line of confrontation with other teams, often having pests like Davy Arnaud and Stephane Auvray getting up close and personal with the other team's main supplier in the midfielder. To counter this pressure, teams will often attempt to push the play up further and draw KC into their own half. This makes a lot of sense; after all, you'd rather be hassled in the opposing half of the field than your own.
But... That’s a trap. If the Wizards can suck all five midfielders into the attacking third (which they did) a quick diagonal ball or a trailing inside run can slice open the meager three men left in front of the keeper (which they did).**With four guys out back a team can at least retain a sturdy defensive shape -- in a 4-4-2, if the fullbacks push up, the defensive midfielder will stay home usually. With just three guys on a narrow-looking field, and a defensive midfielder like Shalrie Joseph pushed up to try and break the pressure, the diagonal ball across the field and the trailing run behind the inside defender on the counter are both in play.
Diop's first goal was a trailing run behind the inside defender. The third goal, Diop to Kei Kamara, was a combination of those two moves.
Unfortunately, there aren't many other teams that employ a three-man backfield. And, after this weekend's showing, there aren't likely to be many teams that field that formation in Kansas City again for a long time.
It's a shame too. Forty percent of the Wizards goals this season have come against that formation.
Actually, on second though, that's sort of depressing.