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New coach, new formation? Time for a little Chicago Fire 4-3-3?

Remember when Diego Chaves scored goals?  He had help up top every time that happened.
Remember when Diego Chaves scored goals? He had help up top every time that happened.

I have been thinking over a formation idea for a month or so now. I have mentioned it in a few comments, and talked a time or two about it with Tweed. In light of Frank Klopas taking over for the axed Carlos de los Cobos, I think he should look at a different lineup possibility. I also think the CDLC should have given this idea some thought. If the Fire have been consistent at one thing this year, it is formation juggling. We started the year with a 3-5-2. While we have enough midfielders to pull this off, unfortunately we showed early on we can't sustain a backline of 3 players. At least not at this point in time. Follow me after the break for my formation idea, a poll, and a bit more exploration of this idea...

The Fire have mainly alternated between a 4-1-4-1 formation and a 4-4-2. We have even changed formations during games depending on personnel on the field. In fact, the first 2 games of the year we went with a 3-5-2. In the next 5 games, we started with a 4-4-2. We then went to the 4-1-4-1 for 4 games, and then back to the 4-4-2 for the past 2 games. As you can see, we have been consistent if nothing else in regards to being somewhat inconsistent. The cherry on top was last week when CDLC made the puzzling decision to put Oduro out on the left flank. As many Fire fans pointed out, this was not a good idea. Dominic has looked very good on the right wing, but being right footed, he looked lost out on the left. I did like what I saw from Cristian Nazarit in his second start and I thought Diego Chaves looked better than he had. Maybe it was because Chaves had help up top, which took some of the defense's focus off of him. In fact, Diego has yet to score in the 4-1-4-1 formation, and I would go so far as to say that those are the games he has looked the worst in. Clearly, he plays better and is more effective when he has at least one other body up front with him. What if we we gave him even more help up top? Hear me out here.

Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari worked well up top together, which is also when Chaves was scoring his goals. When we changed to the 4-1-4-1, Diego stopped scoring and his quality chances even went down. Coincidence? I think not. This is yet further proof that we not only need 2 up top, but we need to look at 3 up top. The Gold Cup bound Marco Pappa also lends credence to the idea that we need to try a new formation- a 4-4-3. Frank has already come out and said he doesn't think now is the time to change things, so a formation change is probably not in the cards. On the flip side of the coin, we are not earning 3 points left and right, so something a bit more drastic than what CDLC ventured to try may be what the doctor ordered, at least if we want to have any real hopes of pushing for the playoffs.

Here's what I think a 4-3-3- could look like for us:






Let's take a look at this. To me, the backline is pretty obvious. Gonzalo Seagres is a rock solid starter at LB. Kinney will be back soon, so that will make things interesting at RB. I am one of the proponents of moving Anibaba to CB for a look since he has played there in college. It's his natural position. It's harder to do that now because Cory Gibbs and Yamith Cuesta have both done very well, and moving them around may impact their performance negatively and offset any gains Anibaba may produce. Beyond variables like that, I think that a 4 man backline is necessary for this team with the current roster in place. We have the four or five guys who should be starting every game back there.

Midfield gets much more tricky. By now I think you all know my feelings about Logan Pause, but given the fact that he is captain, I still see him getting playing time from Frank. I will admit that having a DM is more of a necessity if we are going with a 3 man midfield. In fact, I would expect the 2 mid's in front of Pause to play a bit deeper as well, which opens things up for the men up front a bit more. 1 of 2 things will happen with a deeper midfield- either defenders draw up, giving more space to the forwards to work with, or they stay back, giving more room to the attacking mid's to push up a bit and create. This could also leave us more vulnerable to quick counter attacks. Given the fact that we have a good amount of midfielders to choose from, I think we could make it work.

Personnel decisions also get interesting for the midfield. I think Oduro is a must on right wing. He has looked good every game he has played out there. I am a big Nyarko fan, but I think he is going to find it tough to win his spot back unless he can step up his play consistently. One of the hindrances of dropping to a 3 man midfield is that we do lose out on some solid players. Bone, Paladini, and Puerari have all looked good out there this year. I thought about putting Paladini as a possible DM, but his strengths are better suited a bit further up in the midfield. Bone has showed some good flashes, but he has pretty limited playing time so far to win a spot outright. Puerari is best up top, but there is not room for him. He has had some good stretches in midfield, but as Tweed said, he seems to have developed a super sub role which he does well enough at. So I think the spot beside Oduro is probably a platoon position, depending on opponents, matchups, how the starter is doing each game, etc. It's nice to be able to list multiple names for a positional depth analysis, rather than not having enough names to pencil in. We still need that true CAM, but that will hopefully be addressed this summer.

Finally, we get to the forwards. I debated on just how the forwards should be arranged. I want to start with Pappa. For all the grief he gets about poor defending/tracking back, being up top alleviates this somewhat and lessens the impact his defending has on midfield. I may be alone here, but it could very well be that Pappa has been misused thus far in his career. I am hoping to see Guatemala put him up top in the Gold Cup to experiment for us. One thing that hasn't been tried is Pappa as a striker during his Fire tenure. Might it fail? Yes. Do we have anything to lose? No. I decided to put him on the right because, being left footed, I think shooting angles are a bit better than shooting across your body from the left side. He can receive a pass and turn and shoot, rather than having to try to cut the ball back towards goal. I also took into account the fact that Marco likes to start out wide and then attack in towards the goal, thus making the right side a better choice for the southpaw (can that word be used for feet or just hands?). He likes to also run from the corner of the 18 across the middle of it and shoot, and being on the right would be much better for this.

The positioning of Nazarit and Chaves also made me think a bit. In the end, Nazarit has the physical size and ability to be the focal point for our offense. He has shown a physical side, and that he can win headers. Thus, if the ball is played to him but not at an optimal choice for him to score, he has the ability to redirect the ball to the other strikers on the field. It's like a point guard, normally you want your playmaker as the center of attention. While it can be rightly argued that Chaves would be the true playmaker on the pitch, once Nazarit gets a couple of more games under his belt, I think he will become very dangerous. Having a focal point on him will end up being better in the long run. This frees up Chaves more to do his thing, and as the above facts show, he is simply better when he is not alone up top. Nazarit has the ability to create and dominate, and Chaves and Pappa can benefit from this.

In the end, I think this formation should be looked at. Even if it's just in practice at first, we could be an extremely dangerous team with those guys up top. We know Pappa and Chaves can score, and an early look at Nazarit is encouraging too. I know Marco will be gone for at least a couple of upcoming games due to Gold Cup duty but he'll return. If things don't turn around soon, by the time he gets back we may need to pull out all the stops to make an emergency playoff push. Let's hope that doesn't happen and Frank gets the Men in Red going. C'mon Frank, indulge the 4-3-3 proponents.