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Words About Shapes: The Point Of The Spear

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The striker's role in the Fire's 4-1-4-1 takes the glamour of the position out behind the shed and stomps it flat; fourth and final in the series

Thanklessly battling for panicked long passes is part of the striker experience in any modern single-striker set.
Thanklessly battling for panicked long passes is part of the striker experience in any modern single-striker set.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

There's a thanklessness to the role of the modern striker, a series of impossible double binds built into the tactical framework: Be a swaggering, ebullient striker of the ball, carefree and instinctual - and, oh, also, work tirelessly to badger the other team, hurl yourself into challenges. Make magic, and dig this here ditch, too. Work tirelessly for the team - that's awesome - but you'd still better have that sparkle when the ball trickles toward you in the 83rd minute, and if not ... like I said, thankless.

This is the bind that Juan Luis Anangonó, or any striker, is likely to find troubling in the Fire's 4-1-4-; there's this expectation that someone playing that last ‘1' is going to be banging in goals left and right, yet the duties of the striker in this formation are not that of a pure goal-scorer. In the place of a poacher's swagger is a warrior's hard-edged discipline: The target man is the point of the spear.

The first three guys in the striker pecking order - Anangonó, Quincy Amarikwa, and Giuseppe Gentile - all play this way, battling and harraying. It's also no coincidence this is the position most substituted - the physical demands of challenging hard for every header and running full-blast at defenders to trouble their touch are considerable.

Selfless opportunist wanted

So here are the components of the striker's role in the formation:

- Help keep possession: Much of the striker's task when the Fire are in possession is to help the Men in Red keep the ball. If he can turn his defender, more's the better, but typically the first look is back to a midfielder, whose movement should be causing problems.

- Be an outlet for pressure in the middle: The striker is the usual target when Chicago defenders are under duress; since he's usually challenging one-on-two, he looks more to spoil a header back toward a midfield teammate rather than win and keep the ball.

- Stay central, stay focused: Some target forwards like to range into the wide areas; that's less a feature here, mostly because of the need to mark out the opposing centerbacks and keeper. The striker's defensive responsibilities sometimes outweigh everything else. Everything about the team shape - the high line, the fluid attackers, the early marking - comes undone if a centerback can settle the ball, take a touch, and look upfield to spot runs without pressure.

- Take what comes: When the movement pulls the defense apart, and you find the ball in the penalty area, put the shot on goal. You know - score goals. Oh - that.

The hard fact is that there are athletes the world over who can do the first three parts of that formula; I'd trust Frank Yallop to get a solid showing from a random guy pulled out of the stands on the first two. This group will be judged upon their ability to bang home the kind of scrappy chances that come from an offense designed to leverage the talents of one's teammates.

This is the fourth and final installment in this series about the Fire's tactical setup going into 2014. The previous segments can be found here, here and here.