Putting the pieces where they belong

How the 4-2-3-1 formation is making the Union successful

How you line up on the field can be just as important as who you put out on the field.

The Union have come to this realization and found a formation that plays to all of their strengths.

When soccer was a simpler game the most common formation was a 4-4-2, and this is still considered the standard way a team can line up. As more analysis was placed into the beautiful game and coaches began to see the value of modifying the 4-4-2 a bevy of new formations sprung up.

One of these was the 4-2-3-1. What this formation effectively does is split the four and two in the 4-4-2 and create a more spacious midfield. Instead of a line of four midfielders and two forwards above them you now have defensive and attacking midfielders in the center of the park, with a point forward who has the freedom to roam the entire field.

Where this formation is successful is when you have a lot of midfielders on your squad with different skill sets. There are common traits throughout every midfield player, an endless motor, good vision, and the ability to distribute as well as finish, however there are certain intricacies in everyone’s game.

A prime example of this within the Union are players like Maurice Edu and Cristian Maidana. Both are exceptional midfielders but are good at very different things. Mo is ball winner, and a beast in the center of the field. He has a nose for finding the ball, and then making a quick decision to advance it whenever it needs to go, whether that is forward or sometimes backward.

Maidana on the other hand is a creator, a true number 10, who is capable of producing ingenious moments of skill while still be effective. Maidana is a capable defender but his true talent lies in the advancement of the offense. When the ball is at his feet he is looking to go to goal and craftily find a way to get there. He doesn’t have the third most assists in the league for no reason.

It would be a benefit to any team to have these two players on the field at the same time, but it wouldn’t make the most sense to have them play next to each other, which is what it would look like in the 4-4-2 formation.

Enter the 4-2-3-1.

(What that looks like with healthy Chaco)

Philadelphia Union 4-2-3-1 football formation

In this formation the 2 are holding defensive midfielders and do exactly what Mo does best. They are most concerned with winning the ball and slowing play down then immediately advancing up the field. But that’s not too say they can’t attack themselves, they are still midfielders.

The 3 is the perfect home for players like Maidana because you have six players behind you which gives you the freedom to focus on attacking. You also are granted the ability to be riskier with the ball; you can use your creativity and create magic going forward. Flair and style are requirements for players who play in these positions.

When it comes to your 1 up top Conor Casey fills the role nicely. You must be strong and be able to hold the ball up to allow your fellow attackers to join you in the attack. It also is a plus to be good in the air because often you will be jostling for headers when the ball is played out of the back. Casey does all this well, and of course you have to lethal in front of goal, he also meets that requirement.

Brian Brown, who has seen a ton of action since his arrival from Jamaica, is the other look for someone playing in the 1 position. He is a speedster who instead of always holding the ball can do the attacking on his own. Players like this who play as the lone striker benefit tremendously from having midfielders who can play the ball over the top allowing the striker to reach his top speed and burn past whatever defender is in his way. Think Thierry Henry in his prime.

For any team to be successful they need to utilize the personnel within the squad well. Curtin has figured it out when it comes to this, and while no coach is perfect half the battle is finding the formation that suits his players the best.

For Philadelphia expect to see the 4-2-3-1 for many games to come.

If you want to see the formation in action and principle:

What do you think of the formation the Union play with? Leave you comment below.

Contact Union writer Doug Ammon at dammon@philadelphiaunion.com