If you blinked, or if you weren't paying close attention, you might have missed it. But D.C. United did something that we haven't seen them do before in the 2-2 draw against he New York Red Bulls last week. It may have been temporary, it may have been more of a slight adjustment than a major change, but it was a change nonetheless.
United changed its formation in that match at some point during the first half of action. The team changed to a formation that I cannot recall ever seeing the black-and-red utilize before. And yet it was a formation that we are all too familiar with this year.
We've been on the wrong side of a 4-3-3 formation several times in 2012, most notably in the two losses to the Eastern Conference leaders. Sporting Kansas City uses the 4-3-3 effectively to apply high pressure against their opponents. Thanks to the Sporks, it's become quite a fad in MLS recently. Well if its a fad, then Ben Olsen is slamming pogs and slapping bracelets because United employed the 4-3-3 for a period of time in the recent NYRB match.The formation shift wasn't necessarily consequential to the outcome of the match, but it was interesting to see Olsen make such a change. In this particular match, it meant that Chris Pontius was playing higher up the field in a bit of a different role. With Dwayne De Rosario in the middle and Lionard Pajoy fading to the right, United had three forwards meant to disrupt the Red Bulls' ability to build an attack out of the back. Perry Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa, and Nick DeLeon played closer together in the midfield, with the rookie playing more of a box-to-box central role than we've seen him play before. All this also allowed the outside backs Chris Korb and Andy Najar to each be more active on their respective wings throughout the match.
As with any other formation, there are of course pros and cons to utilizing the 4-3-3. Proponents would tell you that its hard to play against, as we've learned first hand from SKC this year. If used properly, your forwards will generate turnovers from their pressure. Having an extra guy up top also makes your team more dangerous on a counterattack. That might be how you'd describe DeRo's goal in that very match. It also gives you an extra central midfielder to shield the back line, while giving the outside backs the flexibility to get involved on both sides of the ball.
The drawbacks should be obvious too though. A 4-3-3 formation will leave the team at a disadvantage in the midfield. It also requires a great amount of energy at many positions across the field, meaning that it might not be the best formation to use when you just played a game three days ago and play again in three days (wait what?).
So what did you think of Olsen's surprise shift to a formation that I can't recall this team using previously in my five years writing about United? Would you like to see them use it again?