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Tactical Thoughts - Tactical Styles

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While we wait impatiently for the start of the 2016 MLS season, let’s review how teams pick the tactical arrangement which they use and how that system determines the player characteristics for that team.

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Static vs. Dynamic Tactical Systems

In general, teams choose to use either a Static tactical system or a Dynamic tactical system. A Static tactical system uses the same positions in the same way in the same areas of the field no matter the score or opponent - home or away. An example of a successful team using a static tactical system would be Real Salt Lake teams under Coach Jason Kreis. RSL ran a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield - every game - against every opponent - the first game of the season and in the MLS Final. The advantage to a static system is consistency - once the current team of players has learned "their" system, they "know" where their team mates are without needing to look. The longer a team can continue with that static system, the more experience they develop, the more consistent the team becomes game to game, the more experience they develop and so on. The idea of a "blind" pass is only reasonable on a team playing a static tactical system. So the advantage is everyone on "their" team knows the system.

On the other hand, the disadvantage is that "their" opponent also knows how they play, where the players pass, run, cross, possess - in short "their" game becomes predictable. If one of "their" players doesn’t find a brilliant move - or their opponent doesn’t make a defensive error - that game ends in a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes. In terms of players, outside players need to be somewhat faster than inside players, inside players need to defend in groups, outside players need to defend 1v1, and one or two of the attacking players are free to create while all the others need to know their roles. Players are chosen to play one or two of the standard positions within "their" tactical system.

A team that chooses a Dynamic tactical system is fundamentally different. Since the system can change based on the opponent, based on home or away, based on time of the game or even the score of the game, training requires the players to develop possession skill, passing skill, field vision, tempo/rhythm, and the offensive and defensive positioning for each of the 2 or 3 systems the coaching staff expects to use. Besides skill, the players need to be at least as athletic as their opponents - more is better. Training becomes much more about reading the game, recognizing the tempo of the game, the positioning of their team mates, the positioning of their opponents, and the use of spaces - both offensively and defensively.

The most recent example of a dynamic tactical system was the last Fire game - the 2-0 victory against Portland. Coach Paunovic brought the Fire out on the defensive side in a 5-3-2. That choice forced Portland to play their possession game out wide while allowing the mids and backs to keep player to player spaces small, to absorb pressure defensively, and deny time and space to all the inside attackers. Much later in the game (after 70 minutes), the Fire switched to a 4-2-3-1 after player substitutions in order to change the tempo of the Fire’s counter-attack, to adapt the tactical structure to the strengths of the players on the field, and to restrict the midfield spaces for the Timbers. So the advantage of a dynamic tactical system is adaptability - to the players, the score, the opponent. If we want to put lots of attacking pressure on our opponents outside backs, we start in 4-2-3-1 …. If we want to close down the outside spaces, we start in 5-3-2 or 5-4-1 …. If we want to play quickly we start in 4-3-3 …. and the starting 11 players are part of that tactical choice. The disadvantage to Dynamic tactics is the time and training necessary to get everyone on the same page - because there are many more than one page to learn. Hence the need for time and patience by the coaching staff - and patience by the fans.

Next week let’s plan to review the Tactical approach which our Fire used to defeat NYCFC on Sunday and look at the approach used by Orlando City in their game against RSL.