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Exploring the #cf97 midfield, part I: The roles & the shorthand

Arguments about midfield construction usually descend into numerical shorthand - what's that all about? How is a '6' different from an '8,' and why isn't a '7' halfway between them?

Control in tight spaces is crucial for anyone in central midfield.
Control in tight spaces is crucial for anyone in central midfield.

In this short-run series, I look at the possible alignments for Chicago's midfield in 2015.

There is a numerical shorthand that soccerheads use for the various roles of the modern midfield - in the English-speaking world, those roles are generally known, in ascending order of attacking intent, as the ‘No. 6,' the ‘No. 8, and the ‘No. 10.' There is also a ‘No. 7' who will trouble our discussion somewhat. As the first three are shorthand for the composition of a modern three-man midfield, and Frank Yallop has announced his determination to play a modern three-man midfield, we will focus on those roles the most. (If this is terribly familiar, feel free to jump ahead to the Part II, where we scout the Fire midfielders.)

No. 6: The ‘number 6' is the midfield anchor, also known as the destroyer. Iconic Fire player: Chris Armas. Generally, a player in this role is tasked with tracking attacking runs out of midfield and discouraging creative play between the lines. With the ball, the least that is expected is that the 6 will be able to reliably turn out of pressure and find a simple outlet - turnovers from this position are generally catastrophic. Players who can combine the defensive responsibility of the position with true creative impetus are among the rarest and most valuable flowers in football's development hothouse.

No. 8: The shuttler, the willing runner, the box-to-box man - this is the midfield all-rounder, a guy who is the fifth or sixth man in both in defense and attack. Iconic Fire player: Jesse Marsch. Stamina and durability are important, along with an ability to think the game and situation - anyone without rigidly defined responsibilities needs to be tactically intelligent. These players should be among the best at rondo on the team, capable of passing and moving to offer a new angle without even breaking into conscious thought about the matter.

No. 10: The glory man, the seizer-of-moments, the straw that stirs the drink - this is the player who breaks the pattern, who finds space between the lines, who sees around the corner and engineers the big surprise. Iconic Fire player: Peter Nowak. In some cultures, this player is given a huge amount of deference in the tactical setup of the squad, the better to marshal their resources toward some fantastical breakthrough. MLS is not one of those cultures, so any creative axis generally has to do a bit of closing down.

Finally, the No. 7: This is the ‘pure winger,' the guy with chalk on his heels whose pace and trickery forces the defense to stretch to cover him. Iconic Fire player: DaMarcus Beasley. These players have come to be considered part of the forward line in most modern tactics. Whether we do so has largely to do with their pressing assignments and how they react to losing the ball - if they immediately fall back into shape with the other midfielders, they're midfielders; if they instead step forward to harrass the opposing defenders, they're forwards.

Nothing wide, thanks: With the exception of the No. 7, these are all central roles. The modern three-man midfield usually will pitch in as the third-man-in defensively on the wings, leaving those spaces to the tender ministrations of a fullback/wing forward pair. When I talk about midfielders in this short series, I am generally talking about central midfielders.

Again, these distinctions are probably familiar to many readers. If you're one of those, no offense to your understanding is intended - the intention is, rather, that everyone start the conversation on similar footing.

Up next: Exploring the #cf97 midfield part II: The players