...what would you do?
As so often happens, the question is asked so the questioner can give his/her own unsolicited opinion, but I do want to read other's thoughts on the matter, too.
1) Big Picture: How do I want the team to play?
a) it promotes a proactive approach
Pressing the ball and cover is a hallmark of this formation. The wide players force their outside backs inside, where they are less comfortable and where there is less time, where the middle three await. The middle three will be very aggressive, looking for turnovers to spring counter-attacks. They must have high work rates to compensate for a push/loss in the midfield numbers. The tip of the spear must make the opponent's play more predictable by pushing the ball left or right, essentially cutting the field in half by making it difficult to switch fields.
b) it's the most tactically flexible
Once the tenets of the system are in place, it becomes easier to switch to a more defensive 4-5-1 or an all out 4-2-4 depending on the game situation. All without having to make a single sub.
2) Enactment: How do I make it happen?
a) I hire Sonny Silooy as my right hand man.
250 matches as a defender with Ajax in that system. He has a teaching background coming from Young Ajax and United's youth set up. He can get the team to grasp the zone/man system, particularly the defenders. When the ball is on the wing, the fullback must know when to step so that the ball is stopped but not able to be sent in behind him, the center backs must know how to stagger so that one is higher and towards the ball and one is lower and behind. Zone marking allows for less chasing, but in and around the penalty area, strictly man coverage. He can drill over and over until at the end of year one, a rebuilding year let's face it, it becomes rote.
b) I hire Jaime Moreno
as a touchstone to the club's glory days and as a respected former player in MLS. Has there ever been a better offensive player in MLS than Jaime Moreno? No. He can see things that I will not be able to see, and he can teach technique that I will never be able to teach. He will have the wealth of experience of winning in this league and what that entails as an invaluable resource for the staff and the players.
c) Why will they take the job?
Because if it works, teams will be hounding them to take the helm. I will give them all the credit, because I will ask a lot of them, but nothing they can't deliver.
d) New strength and conditioning coach.
This is Silooy's hire. Use his connections to get the best available man for the job for this system. Year one is dedicated to teaching and running. The results will come, but by the end of the year my team will run your team into the ground.
e) New trainers.
The new strength/conditioning coach brings in his guys.
3) Rebuilding: Who are my guys?
Two year process-
a) Cut the chaff
Goodbye DeRo, Ruiz, Pajoy, Riley, Woolard, Iapachino, Alam. These players either take up too much cap space, aren't good enough or both.
b)Year one, I rebuild the defense.
It may seem counterintuitive to go this route when the team can't score at all, but I believe there is talent on that end of the field whereas I see no starting caliber defenders on the roster. Basically, I want four new starters on the back line in year one.
First, my backups are Korb at left back, Shanosky and White in the middle, and Kyle Porter is my converted right back. It is a project, but not one that has to produce immediately. If it blows up, Korb can move right and Kemp, who is still on my roster, can back up the left.
So where am I getting all these new defenders? I have three trade chips of varying value: Hamid, Jakovic and the number one pick.
I dangle the number one pick in front of Dallas for one of George John, Matt Hedges, London Woodberry or Walker Zimmerman. They can't all play there, but they can play here from day one. It would be tough for them to pass up.
Jakovic to TFC for Jeremy Hall and a second round pick. Jakovic is Canadian, Hall American. Hall is a former youth international, well traveled and experienced at the position. Has the tools. TFC can't pass this up, they need Dejan bad (so I would make them believe?).
Hamid to KC for Ike Opara. Collin (27) and Besler (26) aren't going anywhere, they make up the best CB tandem in the league. Opara won't play. Nielsen is 36 and showing signs of decline (I'd wager more signs will show in the playoffs which will spur this kind of deal). Done and done.
Another outside back acquired via the international route. It would be nice if Iapichino were an option, but it seems he can't beat out Riley so I'm inclined to think no.
c) Form the team
I see this in the beginning:
----------Pontius (Townsend)---Doyle (Seaton)------DeLeon (Nyassi)---------
-----------------Jeffrey (Neal)--------------------Silva (Martin)-----------------
New (Korb)---------New (Shanosky)---------New (White)-------New (Porter)
This is a crazy young team. Thorrington, Neal, and Pontius are the vets. Pontius is my captain, unless he shows me he isn't worthy, and the other two will give the tough love necessary to the younger players. Obviously there are depth issues. All part of the process. Kemp is still around, and I'd be willing to try Nate Robinson from Richmond, as well as a few MLS castoffs this season. When it comes to waiver pickups and the draft, I'm looking for speed on the wings all day. I don't believe I will find anyone for the tip of the spear from the junk heap, so I'll hold off on that for an international player in year two. If the right deal comes along, it has to be considered, but I'm aiming toward having a powerhouse in year three, when the new stadium opens.
d) Be flexible
Early on, I would play the 4-3-3 until it becomes natural and the reactions are instinctive. Once I believe that level is reached, I would start to change during games in order to cater to certain situations.
Got a second half lead against Portland, so they overload your right side with Wallace, Nagbe, Johnson and Harrington? Switch to a 4-5-1, dropping Jeffrey back with Kitchen and pulling DeLeon to a more traditional wide mid to track those runners while Silva occupies the middle behind Doyle. That way Kitchen, DeLeon and Silva are able to answer those numbers, along with the defenders.
Down a goal to NY, or tied at home? Go 4-2-4 by pushing up Silva with Doyle, having the four up top running and switching along that defensive line while Kitchen and Jeffrey spray balls through and wide, trying to hit the big one, or getting the fullbacks forward to cross for obnoxious numbers in the box.
KC wants to play a high line with Sinovic as the left back? Sub Nyassi for DeLeon and spring him repeatedly down the sideline until he gets the damn thing right.
And so on.
e) Year two - get the big guns
If I've been doing my job, I've been laying the ground work for my DP(s) on the offensive end the year before. I have several targets that my scouts (again poached by Silooy and Moreno) have been jocking for a year or so. I'm integrating them while upgrading at the wide positions with speed, skill and tenacity. I'm creating a buzz for the next season with the new stadium by making the playoffs and scaring the poop out of everyone before unfortunately bowing out in the conference finals. With the groundwork laid, both with the team and their new home, DC United is once again poised to be the class of the league.