The season is just over a month away and the roster is almost completely set. Of course there is still the possibility of adding a few more pieces or dropping a few of the newer players. For the most part the Timbers have the core of their starting line-up signed. With all the changes to the roster will John Spencer go away from the 4-4-2 formation or will he go with a different formation?
*For arguments sake and based on what we have seen of Song'o I am going to act as if he has been signed.
For those not familiar with the numbers a 4-4-2 refers to the number of players in each position starting from the back with the defenders. In this case it would be 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. See the picture after the jump for those visual learners, on a side note can you tell I am a teacher?
The reason a coach would use the 4-4-2 is because of the versatile. In the Timbers case it allows for the wings to join the attack but also to be covered by the fullbacks defensively. The biggest key to the 4-4-2 is the wings, they need to be both a good offensive player who can supply the centrally located forwards with balls in dangerous positions and a decent defensive player. This formation is most used formation in soccer worldwide.
How the Timbers use it
Portland uses the 4-4-2 in the exact way it was intended to be used by trying to attack down the wings. As you saw last year Zizzo and Alhassan were an integral part of the offense last year along with the fullbacks. The draw back to this formation is that the Timbers were so dependent on Zizzo and Alhassan to create their offense or at the very least to hit the final ball into the box.
Diego Chara was there as an outlet later for the wings but early in the season it was Captain Jack Jewsbury who was in the central play maker role. Combining this with Cooper's penchant to drift out wide and it created a stagnant offense that relied too much on the long ball and lacked possession. Hence the over-reliance on set-pieces to score early on.
Currently the Timbers' roster is more suited to play the 4-4-2 this year then last year. The changes are subtle but do improve the team in areas that needed to be improved. Just look at this possible starting line-up.
This formation allows for possession and some defensive chops on the wings. Alexander is as possession oriented as Alahassan but does not lack the defensive chops. Which relieves some of the pressure placed on the fullback, Mike Chabala in this formation, to cover for Alhassan and thus allowing him to get forward more frequently. This would than get our best crosser from the wings last year more involved in the offense.
Songo'o's addition, I really hope he gets signed, would be a major boost to possession as his passing skills and vision are better suited than any of the previous fullbacks. His addition also frees up Palmer and Wallace to play their more natural position of midfielder. With less "route one" attack there is less reliance on a target striker and more of a need for a striker who can find space in the box for the inevitable crosses. Kris Boyd is that striker as he loves to sit on the goal side hip of defenders and attack crosses or find open spaces for passes.
Defensively Hanyer Mosquera will add the defensive speed if he adjusts to the physical nature of MLS play. We all know what we will get with Brunner and his combination with the other CB's will continue the lower goals against average we saw from the Timbers in the second half of the year last year.
All of these changes from last year make Portland a more dangerous team going forward and add a little more team defense to combat the wing play of the other teams. There should be less kick and chase and a lot more possession which should be pleasing to the eye.
Ideally Portland would use a formation which gets the most out of the players strengths and limits their weaknesses. I am not sure the 4-4-2 is the best formation for this team but at least this year it looks like the Timbers are better suited to implement it. Andrew and William will be looking at the other two formations Portland used last year and how the Timbers will look using them this year.
What do you think of the 4-4-2 and what will the Timbers' line-ups look like?